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It's a One-Woman Charge of the Dark Brigade : CAROL MARTINI "Modern Loneliness" (***)

April 16, 1997|MIKE BOEHM

Unlike her namesake libation, Carol Martini isn't going to elevate anybody's spirits. "Modern Loneliness" is unremittingly bleak and heartbroken--just like her previous album, "Piece by Piece."

But anyone patient enough or downcast enough to keep company with this maid of constant sorrow for her new CD's staggering 68 1/2 minutes will be pretty well rewarded. Against all odds, Martini makes this long, monochromatic listening experience work--even though she isn't a greatly gifted singer, nor a particularly imaginative lyricist.

What Martini, a veteran of the local coffeehouse scene, does offer is palpable honesty, a first-rate melodic knack and a backing trio of superb players that puts a charge into her dark, surging folk-rock songs.

Guitarist Keith Lynch, who co-produced the album with Martini, has also supported her on her three albums. On this one, he's a marvel of taste, tonal variety and control. With its singing lyricism, Lynch's guitar is the perfect foil for Martini's voice, which is compressed in range and as wintry and worn as a December dusk. Lynch's main gig is with the recently launched Bill Ward Band, backing the former Black Sabbath drummer who is pursuing a very promising solo career.

Martini benefits from that connection because Lynch brought also along the Ward band's expert rhythm section, drummer Ronnie Ciago and bassist Paul Ill. All the players burrow deeply into her mood, producing music that, while desolate, is never dreary.

As the album's 17 songs unfold, one becomes sure that one more stark meditation on romantic disaster will be one too many. But each time, Martini keeps a listener hanging on with tuneful hooks and riffs and steely determination to explore every cranny of the bleak emotional garret in which she's trapped.

She gauges her pain with tempered artistry, never breaking into the unseemly grandstanding of the breathless, sob-and-whine school of heartbroken pop.

Martini is no storyteller or wordsmith. Her songs are lyrically plain and repetitive and curiously abstract. We hear about a generic "I" and "you" caught in the painful dance of love gone wrong; we don't get any of the visual color or narrative incident that a more story-conscious writer would create.

This is a serious shortcoming, but the very featurelessness of Martini's lyric writing somehow works, turning "Modern Loneliness" into an abstract impressionist take on its subject. The wordsmithing may be lacking, but the melodies and emotional acuity are always there. And, as somebody once sang in a particularly obnoxious heartbreak ballad, two out of three ain't bad.

(Available from Carol Martini, P.O. Box 2753, Newport Beach, CA 92663).

Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with three stars denoting a solid recommendation.

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