Not long after making her debut as the new co-lead with Gypsy Tailwind, Amanda Gervasi is back this week with a full-length solo album of her own, Merry the Ghost, produced by Eric Bettencourt and with a cast of various local musicians. It is well-constructed and artfully done, and Gervasi continues to show herself as a considerable vocal talent and songwriter.
MERRY INDEED Amanda Gervasi.
Like "Lucky and Loaded" from Gypsy's new Decades and Days, Gervasi often shows off a jazzy vocal inflection, a Billie Holiday type of languid delivery paired with crisp phrasing. She's not always quite as vampish, instead often seeming almost drugged and narcotic, but there is almost always that kind of confidence and pointed purpose.
Bettencourt surrounds her with a collection of stringed instruments and piano, virtually always acoustic and largely unaltered, making the disc as a whole feel warm and inviting, even when the sentiments are sometimes dark and brooding. In the opening "Daymaker," for example, Gervasi introduces herself via baby-doll a capella, then a gently strummed acoustic, spare and dream-like, before being joined by an accordion piece from Timmy Beaulieu.
"How pretty," it is easy to think. How very Sound of Music. But there is Gervasi imploring, "Let them burn/Let them thirst."
In the more orchestral "Billie," we are delivered a string of broken people and disappointments: "Miss Dalton, you pioneering soul/Did your street coffin smell of cheap alcohol?" It's slow and dreamy, too, but it's more full-bodied, like Ray LaMontagne's Till the Sun Turns Black, with a heavily reverbed alt-country guitar doing western in half-time. Then at the 3:50 mark it ramps up into a double-time strum, like a surf-rock tune, with some excellent viola work from Kallie Ciechomski, before degrading into a grainy, old-record vibe (and a Munsters-rock coda, for that matter).
But I think Gervasi is at her best when she picks up the pace a little bit. "Bullet" features a staccato three-part strum from Gervasi on the acoustic guitar, with a swaggering and alluring lead vocal that's nicely paired with a muted trumpet from Chris Chasse. The phrasing here is terrific, from her desire to "steal the heat from your gun-powdered brain" to her assurance that "if a mass disaster, baby, is what you're after/I'm dead in your sights." Nice, too, is the play out where Chuck Gagne mimics her "aim, click, fire" arrangement with a halting stop on the drums.
Her playful stomp of a song, "Twisted Steps," is also engaging, with Bettencourt peeling out licks on the dobro and Colin Winsor crafting a nice contrast between his plucked and bowed bass. It's a don't-need-you anthem with a touch of girl power: "I'll wave a flag if I want you back/You should know by now you don't siphon a life like that." And there's a great descending vocal line where Gervasi stays in lock-step with the guitar before the song plays out in brushed snare drum.