Last month brought us a new album from the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Debbie Neigher. Her latest project is entitled Unravel and it reveals an artist who is continuously inspired and willing to push her creative and personal boundaries in her quest to deliver a wonderful collection of music.
Before pursuing music full-time, she was broadening her horizons as a college student who had taken a semester to study abroad in Ghana. Later, deciding that college wasn’t for her, she picked up and moved to San Francisco to work with homeless youth for three years. As one can see, Miss Neigher is no stranger to taking the plunge. So, when it came to putting this album together, it became another chance to push herself personally as well as creatively to put out a project as musically diverse and empowering as this latest work. Her long-time producer John Vanderslice, she had explained in a recent interview, helped her in this stylistic reinvention. Included are a dynamite team of collaborators (a list of significant talent from the City by the Bay), including arranger/conductor of the Magik*Magik orchestra Minna Choi (Death Cab for Cutie), engineer Ian Pellicci (Deerhoof, The Dodos, Rouge Wave), drummer Jason Slota (Thao with the Get Down Stay Down), and Jesse Cafiero on bass and lap steel guitar (Thao, Sean Hayes). Additional musicians who contributed their threads to this wonderful musical patchwork include violinist Justine Leichtling and multi-instrumentalist Sylvain Carton. Calling them the “Dream Team”, Neigher and JV (her personal name for Vanderslice) were to craft a wonderfully collaborative masterpiece.
When asked to describe Unravel, Miss Neigher explains that it is “a collection of songs about vulnerability—avoiding it, embracing it and turning it into strength and power; the vulnerabilities of femininity and how that can be interpreted; emotional hibernation…” I must say, when one throws him or herself into the sounds of her melodic electric keys in combination with her down-to-earth, yet emotionally tinged, lyrics it is easy to feel the fire of the human experience and how such fierce winds from the outside often blow those flames from one side to the other, sometimes nearly extinguishing them altogether. “Arboretumes” poetically illustrates such anxieties. However, such exposure isn’t always angst-ridden. The gleeful bounce of “Tomato Fields” shows us another side of vulnerability; the ability to be open and carefree without the artificial frames and boundaries society uses to “guide” our development as well-rounded individuals. The horns that came in late are, in my opinion, a wonderful addition to the piece and it blended itself perfectly with the bouncy percussion and piano; an excellent motif for the spontaneity that comes with being completely open. The title track also provides an inspirational tone. Miss Neigher’s piano skills shine beautifully as the percussion plays a slower, yet far-from-lacking-energy tempo that keeps the lowest soul up and moving like a jog through a park on a sunny day. With such a diverse array of songs, Miss Neigher has once more proven that taking the plunge and doing something completely different, more often than not, is the most fulfilling thing a person can do. Unravel is the result of such inhibited willingness and it is the best example to follow.
Unravel is available on iTunes
— Simone Brown