By Chris Kocher
Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY)
-used with permission-
It's fun to picture Lisa Moscatiello
as some kind of superhero, toiling by day in the dark recesses
of the library where she works during the day, but shedding
her glasses to become a nightclub chanteuse after dark.
Reality, of course, isn't done with such
bright primary colors. (No need to wear a Spandex costume
or fight crime, either - which are good things.) But Moscatiello
does possess some powerful skills that have served her well:
a sultry and versatile alto, the talent to tackle a wide range
of musical styles, and an ability to function without much
Over the past decade, Washington, D.C.-based Moscatiello -
who really does have a day job at a library - has built a
name for herself as a solo performer and also as part of folk-rockers
The New St. George and the Celtic ensemble Whirligig. At the
same time, she and former girlfriend Bev Stanton have concocted
trip-hop dance tunes as Arthur Loves Plastic, a group popular
in electronica circles.
"I'm picky about songs - I have a hard
time finding songs that I like, even just to listen to,"
Moscatiello said. "If I were to limit myself to one type
of music, I would have to compromise on the song, sacrificing
the sound for the song."
Her latest CD, Trouble From The Start, treads
new ground with a style she calls "acid cabaret"
- torch songs with multi-layered musicianship and a hint of
"This album, I was trying to hold myself
to more of a narrow range," the Yale graduate said. "I
was really trying to discipline myself a little bit. The iPod
was made for people like me, but I realize that there are
some people who want to get into a mood and listen to something
and stay in that mood."
Passion and heartbreak stitch together the
songs, a mix of covers and tunes from Stanton and Moscatiello.
The album's jazzy title track lays out the premise: Love can
be "trouble from the start," but in Moscatiello's
world, it's still a journey worth taking.
From the complicated relationship of Ashtray
(previously an Arthur Loves Plastic song) to an aching version
of You're Crying (originally recorded by Dinah Washington),
Moscatiello's expressive voice resonates somewhere deep in
your psyche and reminds you of bittersweet relationships gone
Other songs soar, buoyed by infatuation and
hope. The effervescent Feel The Love urges us to "rise
above the world that grinds you down" and embrace life's
amorous possibilities. New Year's starts with "dancing
on the rim of despair," but finds a change of heart:
"The world flies by and I'm standing / but not landing
today / I wanna find a love / so lead
Moscatiello brought together a who's who
of Washington-area musicians for the project, a band she dubbed
The Space Dots - Erik Wenberg (guitar), Robbie Magruder (drums),
Jon Nazdin (upright bass) and Harry Appelman (organ and keyboard).
It's a lineup Moscatiello calls an "experiment"
- Wenberg (an indie rocker with the band Emmet Swimming) and
Magruder (longtime drummer for Mary Chapin Carpenter) weren't
known for jazz recordings, and the musicians had never played
together before. But it all jelled well in the end, providing
solid backup on every song, and sometimes reaching exquisite
heights of their own (such as the extended jam at the end
of the beautiful What Happens After Love?). Appelman, a two-time
finalist for the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition, proves
especially nimble as the best argument for restoring the organ
to its rightful place in popular music.
Also appearing on the album are Moscatiello's
frequent duo partner, cellist Fred Leider and classical guitarist
The ever-humble Moscatiello, who eschews
the image of the lone-wolf singer/songwriter, is happy to
give credit to Stanton and producer Marco Delmar for Trouble's
"I don't ever have this great vision - I always find
things by hunt-and-peck," she said. "I was starting
to get into (a) rut, and I brought Marco a couple of different
cassettes with ideas. He could have just taken my money, but
he sent those back and said, 'No, I'm not really feeling it.'
His idea was that the songs that Bev and I had written had
the most uniqueness or charm or something different to them.
"Even though Bev is a techno artist
and a lot of her music sounds very ambient, she's really a
very old-fashioned songwriter. She's the same age I am - her
parents are British, and they listened to a lot of Dusty Springfield
and Shirley Bassey and stuff like that. So she has a really
internalized sense of sophisticated structure for pop songs
that delivers a lot to the listener and has a definite craftsmanship
For Moscatiello, there's one thing that makes
a good song: "I'm kind of a contrarian when it comes
to the folk world - a lot of people focus on the lyrics, but
I feel that I need to have a melody that's really ravishing,
that spurs you on. Maybe that's because I grew up with my
dad, who's Italian-American, playing opera in the house, and
you can't understand the words. The music is enough."
(As if to prove the point, her album includes a cover of singer/songwriter
Pino Donaggio's Come Sinfonia, sung in Italian.)
Last month, Trouble From The Start earned
Moscatiello four trophies at the Washington Area Music Awards,
including album of the year. (Her awards shelf must be getting
crowded - she's won more than 20 "Wammies" over
the years.) Even so, as a woman capable of so many types of
music, she's sometimes unsure how to draw people to her shows.
"A wide variety of people - white, black,
80 years old, 17 years old, the postman - people like it,
but I can't figure out what the common thread is," she
said. "I'd really like to know that."
It doesn't take a marketing genius to arrive at the answer:
With a voice and talent like Moscatiello's, listeners have
no trouble falling in love.