COURTNEY COLLINS – Violet Night
The eclectic ability of Courtney Collins to adapt to a style is uncanny. First it was the power-pop and rock of Arena Venus. Then it was the dark electronic and psychoanalytical sounds of Voltress. With both of those bands on hiatus, Collins took the opportunity to record her first solo CD.
Late last year, Arena Venus shocked their fans with a Christmas CD of traditional carols done jazz-lounge style. That CD was, surprisingly, one of the best of the year and Collins’ fans wanted more. So she called on Andrew Thomas and Jeremy Ylvisaker who, in addition to playing guitars and keyboards, also recorded and produced Arena Venus’s albums at their Minneapolis studio, Soliton. Ylvisaker recruited drummer Brett Bullion and the fundamental lineup for the album was complete. Violet Night was recorded last fall and released in December.
Though Collins set out to record more lounge rock, reinterpreting some classics, what she and her fellow musicians wound up with is an engaging, varied set of tunes that don’t fall squarely into any one category. Arthur Hamilton’s standard “Cry Me a River” opens the disc and gets a futuristic treatment with sequencing, blips and a brilliant yet sparse interplay between the guitar and bass. “Off Ramp,” a moody piece of indie rock written with Arena Venus guitarist Dan Hicks, follows but then the tempo veers dramatically again with Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” a brilliant rendition performed at a dirge pace with ghostly steel guitar.
Other covers include “Thirteen Men,” (originally “Thirteen Women”) written by Dickie Thompson and transformed into the ultimate “atomic sex” song by Bill Haley and His Comets and later gender-reversed by Dinah Shore and then lounged-up by Ann-Margret; and “Al Di La,” recorded by Emilio Pericoli in 1962 and re-recorded by Dean Martin, Al Martino, Jerry Vale and by the Ray Charles Singers. Collins sings it in both Italian and English. Also covered is Idlewild’s “Roseability,” Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark’s “So in Love” done Motown style, and Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” with a spare acoustic accompaniment. This is a creative adaptation as well, with double-tracked cello, upright bass and fingerpicked acoustic guitar.
The originals are just as varied as the cover selections. “Don’t Forget” mixes a classic pop-lounge melody with a punchy chorus and Brian May-style guitar solos. “Used To,” also written with Hicks, is totally Blondie while “Away From Me” blends 80s keyboards and song structure with contemporary drum sounds. “Anthems” closes the album with another dose of moody indie rock.
Through it all Collins establishes herself as a singular, flexible and powerful vocal presence. She doesn’t over-emote or add too much “crying,” giving the music a heightened sense of realism and artistry. Collins has successfully synthesized all of her loves and influences into a compelling and original whole. Violet Nights is an excellent recording that should be sought out by all musical thrill-seekers and by those who appreciate the injection of some mystery into their rock. It will sit very nicely next to your favorite Tom Waits recordings.