Amy X. Neuburg / The Cello Chixtet

The Secret Language of Subways

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Amy X. Neuburg is a completely redefined kind of classical composer/performer, an artist whose work -- while unquestionably classical -- allows for such a degree of pop music input that it can be confused for pop music, especially among those who don't, or can't, recognize that she's doing something completely new and her own. Neuburg's singing voice -- relaxed, natural, and well-suited to the street smart, witty, and sometimes confessional texts that she writes -- bears a superficial resemblance to well-established pop voices like Suzanne Vega or Lisa Loeb, but that impression wears off once Neuburg goes up into the stratosphere to sing like an operatic soprano or wrestles her voice accurately through a particularly complex, non-tonal passage, something neither of these other singers are likely to do. Her writing, for Neuburg's Cello Chixtet -- Elizabeth Vandervennet, Elaine Kreston, and Jessica Ivry -- can approximate the mantle of pop orchestration a là "Eleanor Rigby" so successfully -- such as in "Closing Doors" -- that at the outset the listener might think he/she is being contracted into a sophisticated easy listening session or cabaret soirée, until Neuburg pulls out some stops of highly sophisticated scoring -- likewise expertly played by the Cello Chixtet -- and abrogates the contract. Neuburg is also an experienced practitioner in the field of do-it-yourself electronics, and this comes into play occasionally, particularly in the highly amusing "The Gooseneck." Bringing all of these plusses into the service of one recording would be a major achievement on its own, and Neuburg and her Cello Chixtet manage to bundle it all up together in the excellent MinMax release The Secret Language of Subways. This is not so much a collection of songs but of little solo cantatas, all of which represent complete dramas utilizing all of the resources that Neuburg's considerable talents will allow, yet not all of them at once. The Secret Language of Subways has a great sense of variety, individuality, and attests well to both Neuburg's brilliance and the crack professionalism of the Cello Chixtet. It instantly inspires one to desire tickets to see her live -- alas, Neuburg primarily performs in the Bay Area only, though she does tour occasionally -- and this disc seems so definitive that in time it may well be viewed as a classic of its kind once the critical community feels it has pegged what it is Neuburg's doing. Hopefully it never will, and even as it may try, Amy X. Neuburg will certainly keep people on their toes with her passionate, immediate, and highly original musical conceptions; open-minded listeners should be able to figure it out from the first.

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