ALBUMS: Louise Goffin’s Double Feature

Two Different Movies carries us cinematically into the ragged ways we fall in and out of love and the desperate ambivalence of love and loss

Louise Goffin (Art: Ron Hart)

Artist: Louise Goffin

Album: Two Different Movies

Label: Sony Masterworks

★★★★ (4/5 stars)


The rolling chords of a langourous jazz lounge piano flow in these shimmering waves within the opening measures of the title track of Louise Goffin’s new album, Two Different Movies.

For a moment we’re back in the Village listening to the mournful blues of Laura Nyro’s “Billy’s Blues” or “I Never Meant to Hurt You” until Greg Leisz’s crying pedal steel weaves itself around Goffin’s languid, smoky vocals. Like the album itself, “Two Different Movies” carries us cinematically into the ragged ways we fall in and out of love and the desperate ambivalence of love and loss. The song shimmers inside a quiet spaciousness that allows Goffin’s vocals to illumine every emotional nuance of missed romantic signals, lost opportunities, and hard-won acceptance and relief. With canny artfulness, Goffin acknowledges that very often relationships fall apart because, in that old adage, it’s as if the partners are watching two different movies: “I can’t make us /Something we’re not/Rewrite the lines/Reshoot the scene/‘Cause I found out/When you walked off/Is that we were watching/Two different movies.”

On her tenth album, Louise Goffin traverses a wide musical terrain, though she never strays too far from the throaty jazz vocals that provide the emotional register for her music. She combines the laconic phrasing and jazz timings of Rickie Lee Jones, Nyro’s lyrical flair for capturing the grittiness of somber desolation, and Joni Mitchell’s gift of elegantly painting pictures of missed opportunities and regret and acceptance.

The album kicks off with “Simple Life,” which opens simply with Goffin’s pleading a cappella vocals blooming into s staccato piano rocker sonically reminiscent of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.” On the chorus, backed by Benmont Tench’s mellotron, the singer issues a kind of take-it-or-leave-it plea: “I want a simple life/No decisions to be made /No future to upgrade /Just you and me/I wanna go outside/Each year a candle on the cake /Out of all the roads to take /I want simple life.” The whirling, jaunty, almost carnivalesque, music evokes the frantic desire to get out of an old way of living to embrace a simple life, all the while knowingly nodding that the simple life isn’t always quite so simple.

Louise Goffin Two Different Movies, Majority of One 2020

The propulsive “Rattle and the Roll” chugs along in a frenetic shuffling skiffle, recalling Rosanne Cash’s hit of the Leroy Preston-penned “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train.” Val MacCallum’s driving guitar rides along the track laid down by the propulsive and rollicking rhythms of Pete Thomas’ drums and Sean Hurley’s bass. The “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”-esque rock intro of “Heart Attack” blossoms into a raucous stomp that breathes the airiness of pop momentarily before riding along Leisz’s piercing lead solo into a punked up, down-and-dirty rocker. Van Dyke Parks’ lush orchestral arrangement on “Oh My God” lays down a bed of hopeful expectation even in the midst of dark dread. The song showcases Goffin’s ingenious ways with words and phrases, as the refrain—which asks, “Oh my God/Where have you been?”—cuts more than one way. The question is the plea of a lover beseeching a partner about his presence, but it’s also a question searching for a divine force whose absence is conspicuous: “Oh my God/Where have you been/It’s sure good to meet you/Something’s coming /And everybody’s counting on you/Oh my God/Oh my God/Everybody’s calling your name/What did you do for me?”

“The Heart is the Last Frontier” rides smoothly along a ‘70s soul vibe, and Goffin’s vocals, soaring over Tench’s mellotron and Dillon O’Brian’s C3 organ, stretch out in an attempt to reach the Minnie Riperton stratosphere as the instruments fold layer on top of layer as Goffin repeats the tongue-in-cheek lyrics: “The moon’s already been walked on/The heart is the last frontier.” The album closes with the atmospheric “Safe to Land,” whose sparseness echoes and evokes the uncertainty of life and love, as well as the hopefulness of having discovered a “safe place to land.”

Two Different Movies showcase Louise Goffin’s restless genius and her lyrical and musical inventiveness. Her songs portray the darkness and light of the human heart, the brilliance of hope and the dark shadow of despair, and the restlessness and resilience of love.

 

Henry Carrigan

Henry Carrigan is a musician and music journalist who writes for No Depression, Living Blues, Folk Alley, Bluegrass Situation; he has written for several newspapers, including the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He's the author of a book on gospel music, Fifteen Spirituals That Will Change Your Life (Paraclete Press).

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