BILLI & PATTI - “love and other 4 letter words”
Review by Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS, NYC
“I'm just an ordinary woman. Looking for some ordinary love” - sings Patti B. in the song ORDINARY WOMAN - one of many fine ode-to-love torch songs on the new BILLI & PATTI cd “love and other 4 letter words”. And those two lines may well sum up the heart & soul of the duo's charming, down-home slice of acoustic country-rock fixin's.
Billi and Patti bake a great cake (so to speak) out of just a few good ingredients. This is thanks in part to their own song-making resourcefulness and also to the fine sound engineering by renowned producer Mike Badalamenti. Except for a few guitar solos dubbed in here & there by “Mikey”, and some hand percussion by Billi, the only musical accompaniment to the dual vocals on this album is a solitary acoustic guitar - aptly played by Patti in classic flat-pickin' country-rock style. There's never more than two-vocal parts sung at a time. No doublings, layerings or fancy sonic-effects gimmicks. These gals are straight-shootin' and true.
Patti B.'s songwriting formula follows the tried-and-true, simple & solid “everywoman” style that's produced million seller hits for artists like Peter Frampton, John Cougar Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge, Melanie, and a whole slew a' southern blues/rock bands from Doobie Brothers to 38 Special.
Most of the cd's songs are of the torch song type - a pining for true love. Here Patti's lyrics shine with genuine simplicity - and the loneliness of heart she sings of is directly transmitted to the listener.
The lead vocals and duo vocal harmonies are generally delivered in an easy-goin', middle-of-the-road manner. Once in while, however, (as in the finale of the vivid & angry working-class lovers' quarrel - IN THE NAME OF LOVE) Patti lets loose and wails - showing off an awesomely edgy, airy, howlin' head voice ala Janis Joplin, Macy Gray, Bonnie Tyler that made this listener jump up and take special notice. "Tell me you love me then you act like you hate me. Call me names when you say you wanna date me"..."You wouldn't know the truth if it bit you in the ass. If this is love, then I'm gonna pass".
Billi and Patti acknowlege their God in both the cd's credits and many of their song lyrics. One might consider several of the tracks (including one of my favorites - the amblin'/heavy rockin' opener BELIEVE IN CHANGE) as “Christian rock”. I must say, even a diehard nihilist like myself can appreciate the thoughtful & touching ways they invoke their diety's name and weave His/Her felt presence into their lyrics.
Here and there, song-styles vary - as in the Sade'-like FOREVER LAST. Tho played on acoustic guitar only - it conjures up a quasi Afro/Latin mood - with sonic imaginations of conga type percussion, fretless bass, electric piano, vibes, etc. In REMEMBER ME, REMEMBER YOU, perhaps the most “backwoods” sounding of all the album's songs, one is transported to a lazy summer evening out on the front porch - conjuring up fiddle, accordian, blues harp accompaniment into the mix.
Of special interest is the cd's final track - a heartfelt AIDS anthem - UNTIL THERE IS A CURE. As Patti explains “It was written back in the day when the 'death sentence' was still on everybody's mind”. With AIDS-related discrimination, moral crisis and social tragedy of the virus as its subjects - Patti's lyrics here are so straight-forward/matter of fact/to the point as to be startling - and to great effect. Instead of heady sullen poetry she offers the simple viewpoint of a good Samaritan.
To her credit, Patti has worked as an AIDS volunteer and as manager of the UNTIL THERE IS A CURE Conference. She founded The Pet Support Service, which she still co-runs, and is part of the Trinity Charities at her local MCC Church. Furthermore, one dollar from the sale of each “love & other 4 letter words” cd is donated to The River Fund.
My big wish for Billi & Patti after hearing their cd is to have their songs also get a full rock group production. These tunes are custom-made for ROCKIN'! I keep picturing them fronting a full-tilt boogying band in some packed roadhouse club. Hell, if Bonnie Raitt can do it - these gals surely can! - Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS, NYC
Visit www.billiandpatti.com for more info
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