Elyse Weinberg - Greasepaint Smile - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Elyse Weinberg - Greasepaint Smile

by Hayden Harman Rating:5 Release Date:2015-09-18

Elyse Weinberg was a songwriter in the late 1960s who released her debut album in 1968, titled Elyse. It was essentially lost to the general public until 2001 when Orange Twin Records reissued it. Now, her music has fostered a small group of devotees, most of them Aquarium Drunkard subscribers, who love unsung and obscure vintage musicians. Does it sound like you’ve heard this story before? It is because you have heard it before. That is the angle of virtually every press release that accompanies a reissue nowadays. The question is, does Weinberg’s previously unreleased second collection of songs, Greasepaint Smile, deserve a new cult status?

If anyone has heard of Weinberg, it is most likely through Vetiver’s cover of “Houses,” which appeared on the band’s album of obscure covers, Thing of the Past. “Houses” stands out in Weinberg’s oeuvre as it features fellow Torontonian Neil Young, who lends his signature warbly, fuzz-tone guitar to the track. In addition to Young, J.D. Souther, Kenny Edwards and Nils Lofgren back up Weinberg during the album’s sessions. The result is a fairly average album, one that you’d expect to come out of Laurel Canyon during the early 1970s.

This album works as a sampler of the basic stylistic variations that were popular during that period: hushed, finger-picked acoustic numbers like “What You Call It,” lazy, faux-surrealistic full-band excursions like “Collection Bureau” and the obligatory homage to early American religious hymnody and symbolism with “Gospel Ship” and “Nicodemus.” Musically speaking, there isn’t much that sounds different from the recordings of any other singer-songwriter of that time.

On “It’s All Right to Linger,” probably my favorite track on the album, Weinberg asks, “Do I have to come right out and tell you?” which seems to be her approach to songwriting in general. While there is nothing wrong with being direct, these songs lack maturity, which limits the listener’s opportunity to fill in the blanks or actively engage with the songs. But Weinberg and her band craft some catchy melodies, and the aforementioned track, “My, My, My” and even “Houses” are pretty solid tracks.

Weinberg’s greatest asset is her voice. It is an unrefined, slightly smoky voice that soothes like honey, but always with an underlying sense of hurt accompanying every line she sings. Like many singers of her time, there is a sort of intangible earnestness in her voice, like she really believes in what she is singing. That earnestness mixed with the subtle pain she evokes makes the lyrics a little more compelling.

Overall, I salute the efforts of Numero Group and the countless other record labels that reissue long lost or forgotten records. And I’ll admit I’m just as guilty for that typical PR angle (why else would I reserve this album?), and I have a soft spot in my heart for the obscure or underappreciated. But whereas some obscure artists deserve to be rediscovered and canonized because they were truly different (ok, better) than their peers, some artists are just good. Or merely ok. My verdict is that Greasepaint Smile is a mixture of the two; it has some slightly above-average moments mixed with a significant amount of mediocrity.

Comments (1)

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I like the folk/country angle but the warbly voice and dodgy harmonies are not to my taste. Karen Dalton was a better proponent of the style. Good review.

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