11 / Week 2: First Gig of the Year / Paul Zollo’s “Angeleno Portraits” Opening

Paul Zollo, performing at his "Angeleno Portraits" Opening - photo by Jacki Sackheim

I was honored to be asked, by Paul Zollo, to play at his photography opening Angeleno Portraits at the Talking Stick in Venice, CA this past Sunday.  Paul brings the same great sensitivity and clarity, that he uses in his songwriting and writing, to his portrait photography.  The opening boasted an amazing array of talent – culminating in a performance by Paul Zollo with the accomplished members of his band – Earl Grey, Billy Salisbury, Chad Watson, Bob Malone, Edoardo Tancredi, and John O’Kennedy.  The exhibit will be there through the end of January.

Zollo's portrait of Leonard Cohen / "Angeleno Portraits" exhibit / Talking Stick, Venice, CA

I didn’t know Paul until a little over a year ago.  I met him at the Songwriters’ Co-Op at the Pig’n Whistle in Hollywood.  He read excerpts from his inimitable Songwriters on Songwriting and he was there to provide his insights to each of the songwriters who performed a song that night.  He offered some very kind words about my work and later, via email, we struck up a correspondence.  I’m pleased to say that he’ s become a wonderful ally – and we’ve forged the beginnings of a friendship.  It’s quite something to meet someone who has been a “hero” and then to be able to call him a friend.

One of the high points of last year was receiving a review, from Paul, for Trust the Sky. It felt like the review of a lifetime, to me, and I am forever grateful that he wove such words together in talking about that body of work.

Paul Zollo, performing at his Opening - photo by Jacki Sackheim

I’m including a link to Paul’s online music ezine /blog bluerailroad.com. [see the Blogroll]  I’ll also include the review below.

Many thanks to you, Paul Zollo, for your support and great words of encouragement – both written and spoken.  _______________________________________________                                         Trust the Sky – paula mcmath                                                        Review by Paul Zollo                                                                         bluerailroad.com

She writes the kind of songs people say nobody writes anymore. The kind of songs written by the greatest of the great singer-songwriters –  songs with uniquely poetic lyrics wed to gorgeous  melodies, songs in which both the words and the music are equally inventive and inspired. In great songs, it’s not the words or the music that matter most, but the way in which they connect. In her songs the melodies and lyrics glide together with the immaculate dynamism of figure skaters. The haunting “Trust The Sky,” for example, is a song of quiet zen acceptance, of learning to trust the universe. Its tune is ripe with unexpectedly delightful melodic passages, such as the bluesy turn on the title phrase at the end of each chorus. It’s surprising and beautiful, as is this entire album. Add to that a bridge of aching yearning that resolves into a sparsely tender acoustic guitar solo, surrounded in loving instrumental touches, combined with a lyric of gentle confidence, and you have something timeless and great.

The production throughout – as steered by Paula with the multi-instrumental Ian Hattwick (who also co-wrote several of these songs and contributes lovely musical  touches to each track) – is wisely subtle, always understating the arrangements to enhance rather than overwhelm these powerful songs. These songs are not only inspired, they’re crafty – designed by a savvy songwriter to last,  so that they won’t fall apart on the street like a cheap radio. But they are singularly uncontrived, which is the hardest challenge for all songwriters, met and surpassed by Paula, to write something which is fresh and unheard, yet alive with a timeless inevitability. Her songs sound great on first listening, and only grow richer in time.

“Without Ever Saying A Word” is a breathtaking ballad that is brilliant in its simplicity. Kind of the lyrical flipside to George Harrison’s “Something,” it’s built on a clever conceit but easily transcends cleverness to pinpoint an intangible, always a hard hurdle to clear in the realm of romantic songs, and with a gorgeous tune. “So Long” is a great upbeat declaration, and on it she bears the kind of edgy but passionate feminine presence of a Liz Phair or Patti Smith. Sparked by an unrestrained electric guitar solo by Hattwick, it shows the range she possesses, from tender ballads to rockers. The poignant “3 Flights of Stairs” displays the kind of lyrical spell she can cast, as she projects images of fragile vulnerability, connecting this stairway to a person’s crooked spine so that we not only recognize her subject, we internalize it.

That this is her debut album is hard to believe, because it resounds like the work of a mature, experienced singer- songwriter, someone who’s been doing this for decades. But like Laura Nyro, Carole King and others who wrote inimitable masterpieces from the very start, Paula is a prodigiously gifted singer- songwriter who has taken her inherent abilities and soared with them.  With clear and confident vocals and a natural gift for harmony singing (she beautifully overdubs harmonies with her own voice with the warm assurance of Joni Mitchell or Dan Fogelberg), she has everything it takes and more to be a lasting presence in our musical landscape.  In a world where there seems to be too much of everything except time to take it all in, this is a collection of songs that demands attention, and given it, it’s time well-spent. This is a record that makes no promises it doesn’t keep, but culminates in the promise of more to come. Paula McMath is very much the real deal, an artist plugged directly into the electric current of creativity. This is not to be missed.