Nightlife

23rd Street Lullaby

by Ryan Lindsey
Contributor
Tuesday Jun 15, 2004
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It’s no small feat, creating an album evocative of Lou Reed’s storytelling prowess and Marianne Faithful’s smoky vocals, but Patti Scialfa’s no amateur. Scialfa’s been a part of the music scene since the late seventies – first in New York City, then joining her future husband’s E Street Band during the Born In The USA tour.

It’s been 11 years since Scialfa’s first solo album, Rumble Doll, giving her time to mature from writing what she describes as “a love letter full of questions” to writing the reflective tracks of 23rd Street Lullaby, an album that pulls from Scialfa’s early days in New York’s music scene to “frame struggles between faith and failure, strength and surrender, standing up and giving in.”

During those early days, Scialfa worked as a waitress to pay her rent. In hindsight the job provided more than sustenance; here is an excerpt from “Rose”:

Rose was a waitress…
for twenty years or more
Bringing in the change…
she was heaven sent
She taught me to balance trays
When I didn’t know what to do
and learn to turn tables
to make my wage

She said keep your eye on
the work clock
Keep a dollar in the jukebox
and there’s a bottle of whiskey
behind the coffee machine
Don’t talk to the boss
He’s just trouble you
don’t wanna cross
He’s the walkin’ definition of what
it is to be mean

I’m going out on the
streets of the city
going to spend my money tonight
I’m going out on the
streets of the city
Rose you’re pushing fifty
but you sure look all right

Like Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” or Rod Stewart’s “The Killing of Georgie Part I and II,” Scialfa’s lyrics seem so perfect as to be inevitable.

Thankfully, “Rose” is typical of 23rd Street Lullaby: every song, whether of a past love, place, or experience, is crisp, clear, and beautiful. Even the songs with broader themes possess emotion that’s sadly missing in most of today’s music.

“Romeo” for example, is a song about moving on after a failed relationship, and can be heard as a response to Dire Strait’s 1980 “Romeo and Juliet,” also a song of lost love. Singing from the perspective of an engaged woman, Scialfa ponders a past lover:

Oh Romeo
Remember how we’d listen to the radio
when the girls sang,
“baby, baby, you know it’s true
ain’t no one in this world
for me but you.”

The juxtaposition is brilliant. And it’s melancholy, as even the best memories often are in their finality.

Scialfa is particularly adept at creating this bittersweet happiness, as in "Chelsea Avenue":

Didn’t we walk so tall didn’t we walk so free?
Didn’t have to search for the strength
To be just what we wanted to be
After the temptations
It was just burning rain on wood
The more we learned the less we really understood
Now I don’t know who makes those final decisions
Who will be rewarded, punished or just forgiven
But I forgave you darling because I knew
It’s what you would have wanted me to do
Down on Chelsea Avenue

Scialfa is clearly looking back without regret – to a time she misses but to which she’s not yearning to return. 23rd Street Lullaby, filled as it is with striking lyrics and breathtaking vocals, is an album of living and learning and moving on. It’s definitely an album worth taking home.

Included with the album is a bonus disc with live recordings of three of Scialfa’s songs, including the title track of the current album, “Spanish Dancer” from Rumble Doll, and the apparently unreleased “As Long As You Can Be.”

by Patti Scialfa

Label: Sony
Release Date: June 15, 2004

Ryan Lindsey writes about music, ballet, and politics for EDGE. Random musings can be found at nestofninnies.com.

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