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POR AVION • Amelia

During my reviewing days at amazon.com, an editor sent me a CD for review. It was After All by a band I had never heard of, called Amelia. As a new music hound I was appalled to think that such amazing music existed without my knowledge. Out of the Northwest, like The Be Good Tanyas and their offshoot Po' Girl, Amelia seemed at first of a piece with that area's brand of understated, back-porch roots music tinged with hints of Modernism. But upon closer examination Amelia revealed extra depths of lyric and musical complexity that rewarded more repeated listening. Singer Teisha Helgerson's voice has the same breathy but tough aspect as the females in the BGTs and Po' Girl, but wider range, and did I mention she sings in three languages? The band's international roots sound made room for hints of Latin rhythms like tango, bossa nova, and cha-cha. All in all, After All was a find, with highly intelligent songs and quiet beauty.

Por Avion is the band live, performing music from their two CD's (After All was their second) as well as covers by obscure but deserving writers. Having reveled in the languorous mellowness of After All, I was unprepared for the edgier attitude of their live sound. Amelia guitarist/songwriter and former Flatiron member Scott Weddle reveals himself to be an understated master of the Telecaster, with hints of Robbie Robertson and Mark Ribot, turning "Better Than Sleeping Alone" (on After All) from a wistful lament into a keening cry. Under his ministrations, Eleni Mandell's "Tristeza" becomes a rave up, allowing Helgerson to reveal the underlying power of her usual smoky jazz phrasing. She really lets loose on a cover of "Flor de Mal" by Tito Larriva and Stephen Hufsteter from the Cruzados. (Pointless triva: Larriva went on to compose music for and act in Robert Rodriguez movies).

Fortunately they finally made it to the East Coast and I had an opportunity to check them out myself. Stripped down to a trio with Helgerson playing drums in place of their usual drummer, Jesse Emerson grooving it up on upright bass, and Weddle covering rhythm and lead seamlessly on acoustic and electric guitar, they were brilliant. In the perfect listening environment of New York's Living Room, Helgerson's voice was a marvel, her drumming simple perfection (Samsonite bass drum and all). They exhibited the interaction that only a working band can provide and proved once and for all that less is definitely more--especially if every note of the "less" is an exquisite jewel.

Though Por Avion lists a more fleshed out band, it is essentially the same musical experience as what I saw (minus the visuals of Helgerson's exotic beauty). So if you don't live in the Northwest, or until they come cross-country again, you can check out Amelia live through Por Avion. Then--if you don't already have them--get their two studio records, because too much Amelia ain't nearly enough.
• Michael Ross

return to covers      listen to clips      buy Par Avion here

pick up their previous CD and the first one too


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