Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Let Go And Be Sweet - The District

From the District - (11/04/09)

Of all the bands that helped define the Los Angeles punk movement of the ’70s and ’80s, only X managed to amicably rock their way into the 21st century to larger crowds and consistent acclaim. With a signature blend of rockabilly strut and relentless thump, X was defined by frontwoman Exene Cervenka’s bedraggled shout and captivating stage presence. Now in her 50s, Cervenka has become a grande dame of the scene, only recently returning from a four-year sojourn to the Midwest in attempt to find a little peace and quiet. Accompanying her return is her first solo album since 1991.

Christine Cervenkova was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1956 but spent her teen years in Florida. Under-stimulated and overly ambitious, Cervenka longed to escape to somewhere more amenable to her desires. New York-based session guitarist RK Watkins, a high-school classmate of hers, recalls that “she never exhibited any musical tendencies in school. It was before punk rock, the tail end of glam. Back then she was just a real fashion queen.” So at the end of high school, with a suitcase full of hair dye and Salvation Army dresses, Cervenka hit the road with a friend bound for Los Angeles—as good a place as any to pursue her wild-eyed dreams.

In Los Angeles she found her calling, befriending bassist/songwriter John Doe, with whom she formed a band—and married. X played the crustier dives of the Sunset Strip before a chance meeting with bespectacled Door Ray Manzarek, who offered to record the band’s first album. “He came to see us play at the Whisky,” Cervenka recalls. “He came backstage and said he wanted to work with us. We were part of musical history just for being in the club, and it made us profoundly thankful to work with him. It was a magical moment.” Their partnership lasted through their first four albums, resulting in classic anthems like “Los Angeles” and “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline.” Although X never reached superstardom, their influence echoes through any band with a twang and a pulse.

After nearly 30 years in Los Angeles, Cervenka needed a change of scenery. In 2005 she left her smog-ridden home for the wilds of Missouri, where she spent her time engulfed in creative pursuits. “That’s pretty much all I did for four years: practice guitar and focus on making art,” she recalls. “I just focused on making stuff.” The result of that sabbatical is Somewhere Gone, recorded sporadically last winter.

A far cry from her throat-thrashing in front of X, Somewhere Gone is a quieter album reflecting her countrified confines. Cervenka strums her way through 14 songs of Americana-drenched instrumentation and tight vocal harmonies touching equally upon love and loss. Acoustic and intimate, the album rings with an honesty no less passionate because of its reduced decibels. To promote the album, Cervenka will be appearing at Alex’s Bar with members of Los Angeles-based alt-country stalwarts Dead Rock West, including silky-voiced crooner Cindy Wasserman, who appears throughout the new album. “[People] are not coming to the shows expecting to hear a loud rock band,” Cervenka says. “They don’t know what to expect at all.”

Despite a recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Cervenka remains upbeat about her health and is focusing on unleashing a newfound sense of creativity. “I am really enjoying being back here. I’ve been doing a lot of recording. It’s extremely rewarding to be back in a community of musicians,” she says. “We’ve recorded two new X songs for Christmas. I’ve recorded some songs just to do it. It’s been great.”


Let Go and Be Sweet @ the District

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