by Al Kaufman
As the front half of the punk-Cabaret duo, Dresden Dolls, singer-pianist Amanda Palmer has an obvious theatrical flair. And she has found her soul mate in Ben Folds. Folds produced and performs on half the songs on this CD. The two are both creative pianists with dark, dark senses of humor. How else to explain "Oasis," about getting raped at a party and having an abortion, all set to the '60s girl act doo-wop beat?
Palmer is the complete package. All the songs here crackle with energy and passion. Her vocal range falls anywhere from falsetto, such as on her eerie Rodgers and Hammerstein cover of "What's the Use of Wond'rin?" to sexy hushes and screaming wails. She is the deliciously evil twin of fellow pianist Regina Spektor. Like Spektor, Palmer is full of hiccups and shrieks, but there is much more substance to back it up. "Strength Through Music" is a gorgeous dirge inspired by the Columbine High School shootings. It's dangerous territory for such a theatrical artist to cover, but Palmer's stripped-down sincerity on the track cannot be questioned. It is a powerful piece.
Palmer truly shines in her louder pieces. She bellows through "Leeds United," with the refrain "Who needs love when there's Law and Order/Who needs love when there's Southern Comfort?". The horns add a playful touch to her angst. She and Folds have a knack for bedding anger and resentment on bubbly melodies. They do it again on the quieter "Blake Says," utilizing strings in the place of horns, and on "Guitar Hero," relying on guitar (courtesy of Dead Kennedys' East Bay Ray) and her own piano bashing.
Amanda Palmer is not for everyone. She is an acquired taste. It's for people who like danger, darkness, and fun in their pop. But in the end, this is terrific music. The melodies are fleshed out and instantly accessible, the voice is pure and passionate, and the songs are engrossing and engaging.