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Elisa Randazzo - Bruises & Butterflies

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Artist: Elisa Randazzo

Album: Bruises & Butterflies

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jun. 1, 2010

If anyone has pop music in her blood, it’s Elisa Randazzo. The child of professional songwriters Teddy Randazzo, whose hits include Little Anthony & The Imperials’ “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” and Virginia Pike, who wrote the Third Bardo’s “Five Years Ahead of my Time,” she’s gone on to live the life herself. A fashion designer, she’s named her line after singer Dusty Springfield. She’s also sung and played violin with Fairechild, a combo she co-lead with ex-husband Josh Schwartz, and the Red Krayola, but she didn’t step out on her own until well into her 30s.

So even though Bruises & Butterflies is her first solo recording, there’s nothing tentative about it; it’s the work of someone entirely in control of her medium and quite clear on what she wants to do with it.

Randazzo started writing Bruises & Butterflies’ songs after her marriage tanked, and it takes you through the phases of break-up, bum-out and recovery. But despite the personal subject matter, it’s no wallow. Some of the songs are longer on vibe than specifics, evoking regret and hope without overburdening you with details. But even when she’s singing in the first person about dividing belongings or the aftermath of a wasted night out, Randazzo’s cool delivery lends a measure of distance. She’s not one to serve her bitters straight. She knows the worth of a good tune, and she doesn’t hold back; this is the sort of record that hits you with one catchy melody after another, each willing to take over from its predecessor the duty of being your favorite song for a day.

Randazzo isn’t stingy with sensual pleasures, either; someone spent a lot of time getting the balance of tones and frequencies just right. Her vocal arrangements fly in immaculate multi-tracked formation over strings that stay just shy of astringent and guitarist Aaron Robinson’s sweet acoustic fingerpicking and spacey steel licks. The arrangements echo urbane 1960s and ’70s folk and country-pop — Dusty, the Byrds c. “Ballad of Easy Rider,” Bridget St. John, Brigitte Fontaine — without getting bogged down by precious referentiality. St. John isn’t just an inspiration, but the co-writer and guest vocalist on two songs. She shares the album’s last words with Randazzo, who uses the contrast between her high, smooth voice and St. John’s vibrato-laden alto to subtly up the emotional ante on the way out the door.

By Bill Meyer

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