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Published: 2008/12/02
by Pat Buzby

Electric Cabaret, vol. 1 & 2 – Viva

self-released

In these times of economic trouble, musicians need a lot of confidence to press forward in their field. Judging from her release of a 70+ minute, "two"-volume CD, Viva DeConcini clearly has it.

Not without reason: she has a powerful alto voice, a prolific pen, and some decent jam-guitar skills as well. And she’s gotten a fair amount of the big-band era Trey Anastasio crowd in her corner her resume includes Cyro Baptista’s Beat the Donkey, and Peter Apfelbaum’s horn section backs her on half this disc. She also gets a press-kit quote from Trey himself (who knew he had such a thing for brassy women?).

Viva has charisma, but she deploys it here with varied success. The patter songs may draw in the theatrical crowd, but they leave this Broadway skeptic feeling a bit hectored. And while she comes up with appealing dance grooves for “Monsters From Another Dimension” and “Spanish Cafrdquo; a stronger chorus and fewer words might have given the songs more impact. Her flashiest guitar outing comes in “Alive,” but, like some of the more trying vocal passages here, it’s a barrage of licks with little pause for breath.

Still, she demonstrates good strategy by putting the most winning song first: “Kansas City,” a bittersweet, big-band ballad. “Far Away” has evidence of Beat the Donkey adventures in its gamelan-influenced intro, which mutates into the basis of an appealing low-key number. “In My Dreams” and “Waltz For My Mother” demonstrate that she knows her way around torch songs. And if you can get past the audacity of Viva putting herself in the same sentence as Bob Dylan, “No I Didn’t” is a countrified charmer reminiscent of Dan Bern’s more humorous moments.

Electric Cabaret is sometimes striking, sometimes annoying, but Viva’s efforts to leave an impression are not in vain.

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