Dalbello: Exposed

(Appeared On February 25th, 1998)

Somewhere in the back of my mind lingered a suspicion that the music of Alanis Morissette was a diluted version of something more raw and primal, something that gave "You Oughta Know" its growl and kick. I finally found that something, and if you've listened to only USA radio for the last 15 or so years, it's safe to say you've never heard it. Allow me to introduce: Dalbello.

Dalbello is the musical re-invention of Lisa Dal Bello, who even in the late '70s was a pop star in her native Canada. She's written for artists from Bryan Adams to Patti LaBelle, but her own albums are truly unique. Interweaving pop sensitivity and raw emotion, Dalbello's work is the most impressive and accessible combination of musical innovation and intense lyrical vulnerability since Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd. She was even asked to do the score for the movie "9 1/2 Weeks", although she wound up contributing only one song, a demo of "Black On Black", to the soundtrack. I can't say this strongly enough: She is brilliant, an artist some of you will find indispensable once you hear her. Her three solo albums, _Whomanfoursays_, _She_, and _Whore_, are very different from each other in feel, so check them out here in The Big Room and get acquainted with the most impressive female Rock artist of the last 15 years.

Dalbello -- _Whomanfoursays_ (EMI Canada, 1984)

"You fumble for your keys/I'm six or seven steps behind you/I'm so close to you..." -- Making Melissa Etheridge's stalker songs seem tame by comparison ("Come To My Window" has nothing on this), album opener "Gonna Get Close To You" (covered by Queensryche) is a gripping, apt introduction to Dalbello's inescapably intense musical and verbal poetry.

Summoning their "human forces" (pronounce the album title), Dalbello and Mick Ronson ("Ziggy's guitarist" for David Bowie) play all the instruments on this stark and affecting album. With proto-industrial and ambient traces swirling among the growling and cooing of the menagerie that Ronson and Dalbello perform, this is a challenging record, but Dalbello's gift for melodic sweetness and pop textures keeps it from becoming overpowering. Unfailingly dark instrumentation adds depth and muscle to melodic tracks like "Wait For An Answer" (covered by Heart), the Kate Bush shadings of "Animal" and the industrial "Cardinal Sin". Sparse, jagged, and catchy, _Whomanfoursays_ still sounds fresh in 1998, amazingly transcending time and trend, a dazzling introduction to this tremendous talent.

Dalbello -- _She_ (EMI Canada, 1987)

"Some things are so sacred..." -- The sibilance slithers, infectious and invigorating. The atmosphere gives way to piercing percussion... and "Black On Black" kicks in. For some people, this alone will be worth the price of the album.

_She_ is easily the most traditional-sounding of the three Dalbello records. "Talk To Me" is musically strong and smooth enough to fit on Rock and even Hit Radio formats, and the dance groove of "Intimate Secrets" is made even more poppy by the punchy horn lines behind it. Even the darkness of "Danger Danger" is tempered by a vocal hook that seems straight from cheery power pop. Even more impressive is the way _She_ fuses mainstream pop and the _Whomanfoursays_ dark swirl on songs like "Tango" and the awesome hit, "Black On Black" (covered by Heart). It isn't formulaic, just a shade less strong without distilling away Dalbello's brilliance in the process, and still hugely rewarding.

Dalbello -- _Whore_ (Spin/ EMI Canada, 1996)

"The blunt from the cut spills the milk from her veins/ the sacrifice? the sum of all that remains..." -- These lyrics open the title track of an album as perfect for modern rock and the late '90s as _She_ was for 1987. Shedding the pop shine and expanding on previously sparse instrumentation, _Whore_ swirls with gnarled guitars and edgy dance grooves on uptempo tracks (the stomping "Heavy Boots") and midtempo winners (the melodic, infectious "Easy"). But Dalbello has not forsaken her incisive, seductive, industrial roots, with the harmonies and grind of the title track, the twisted balladry of "Falling Down", and the modernized funk and distortion of "Deep Dark Hole".

Through it all, the pointed vocal phrasing, gritty instrumentation, and overall raw aura of the album remain unmistakably Dalbello. College and modern rockers owe it to themselves to give this record a listen. It may just be the album you wanted Alanis' to be. Or it may be much, much more. You oughta find out.

*****

In a move I presume is retaliation for acid rain, Dalbello's albums are not domestically available in the USA. They are all, however, available as inexpensive Canadian imports. You can also hear sound samples on Dalbello's website at (http://www.dalbello.com).

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Eric Aaron has a hard time believing that Dalbello did the backing vocals on Boz Scaggs' smooth and poppy "Miss Sun". He is a graduate student, a guitarist for Ithaca-based band The EFFECT, and he pretty much only uses ice cubes to keep beverages cool.


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