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Concrete Blonde - Group Therapy Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 January 2002
performance 8
sound 7
released 2002

Group Therapy is not nearly so urgent as its title implies - there aren’t any critical psychological decisions being made herein. Instead, singer and songwriter Johnette Napolitano, along with her two bandmates, has used this recorded opportunity to take an overview of life so far. Napolitano, of course, is the most visible one under the microscope’s lens, since these are her words and this is her voice. But because she’s “got a lotta soul,” as one song so truthfully puts it, almost anything she says is worth hearing out.
There are few quiet moments here, such as when Napolitano’s husky-lunged narration sails over guitarist Jim Mankey’s Spanish guitar on “Your Llorona.” But “Violent,” where Napolitano’s singing trades riffs with Mankey’s atmospheric electric guitar-scapes, is much more representative of Concrete Blonde’s strong points and frames the general mood of this disc. This is a band that has been around the block a few times, but Group Therapy is proof positive that there are still plenty of miles left on this sturdy and still lively old vehicle.

This journey through Napolitano’s back pages is most evident on “When I Was A Fool,” which puts her youthful experiences side-by-side with her current middle-aged life for a little lyrical comparison of the two. She may not have a “kid in their teens,” she reminds whoever is asking, but she’s nonetheless “free to a fault” and belongs to nobody and no place. “I’d rather be me,” she summarizes with satisfaction, “than anybody else.”

Admittedly a few of these tracks – such as “Inside/Outside” – tend to drag on a bit. But when this band is sharp, as they still are much of the time with this outing, they cut to the core with a surgeon’s skill. “Roxy” is a fond recollection of glam rock icons Roxy Music, and “Valentine” is a great kiss-off song to an old lover. In “Violent,” this observant group puts our overly aggressive contemporary society into properly chilling perspective.

The band wrote and produced this album, which is why it sounds so much like a welcome extension to this veteran group’s healthy-sized recorded catalogue. Its mix is your basic guitar, bass and drums. But since Mankey is an extremely expressive guitarist and Napolitano is ever the assertive bass player, it must have taken a lot of concentration on drummer Harry Rushakoff’s part just to keep up with these two nonstop creators. Calling it your average rock combo would be a severe understatement.

Whenever the group decides to augment its fairly standard approach with differing and unexpected colors, these elements shine like stars in a brooding and dark night sky. The warm piano on “Angel” is like the fireplace on a cold winter’s night, and Napolitano’s synth mandolin makes an immediate roots-y impact on “True, Part III.”

Napolitano is obviously enjoying this little walk down memory lane. But even fond memories disappear with time, which is a concept explored by the aptly titled “Memory,” which closes the album. “Memory, like a melody/softly fades.” But rather than wring their hands about the never-ending passage of time and the accompanying onset of forgetfulness, Concrete Blonde is attempting to learn from its past, to better face the future.

All of which makes this album as therapeutic for the listener as it must have been for the band.

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