Before she made a name for herself in film, on tv and in the theatre, Ellen Foley had a brief but arguably just as successful career as a singer. Her Mick Ronson-produced 1979 debut album Night Out bombed in the US but scored big in several European markets. Her classic remains 1981’s Spirit of St. Louis, generally regarded as the great lost Clash album since Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (Foley’s boyfriend at the time) produced it, played on it and wrote most of the songs. Then there was 1983’s Another Breath, a pretty forgettable detour into synth-pop. Oh yeah – Foley also sang on that famous Meatloaf monstrosity as well as a bunch of Joe Jackson hits. After a similarly eclectic acting career, it was good to suddenly see her fronting a band again, starting about six years ago when she had a more-or-less monthly residency at the late, great Lakeside Lounge. And now she’s got a new record, About Time, with her Lakeside band, assembled by former Five Chinese Brothers leader Paul Foglino and produced by Eric Ambel. The album, her first in thirty years, confirms for anyone who missed her Lakeside shows that the chameleonic chanteuse is just as adept at deliciously guitar-driven highway rock as she is with cabaret, powerpop and elegant chamber-rock. The whole thing is streaming at her Bandcamp page. She’s doing the album release show at the Cutting Room at 8 PM on Nov 4; tix are $20 and still available as of today.
Foglino contributes most of the songs here – and they’re some of the best he’s ever written. The opening track, If You Can’t Be Good has Foley showing off the big resonant vibrato that became her trademark back in the 70s, over a tastefully arranged web of jangly guitars. Nobody Ever Died from Crying looks back to Blondie with its steady backbeat pulse and coyly vengeful lyrics, while All of My Suffering goes in a swaying, anthemic highway rock direction with Stonesy piano, organ and slide guitar, followed by a tasty wee-hours version of Randy Newman’s Guilty.
“If you had a mind, you would be losing it, if you had a soul, it would be shaking…torture me, torture me, open your eyes and tell me what you see,” Foley intones with understated rage on the catchy, soul-tinged If You Had a Heart. She turns in her best vocal over a sultry saloon-jazz groove on Madness, then goes back to the glam on the T Rex-flavored Worried Woman, with its wickedly soaring chorus. And then she brings it down with the Memphis soul-tinged Any Fool Can See.
Around the Block and Back keeps the vintage soul vibe going, defiantly alluding to the twists and turns of a long career. Another standout track is I Can See, Orbison noir as peak-era 70s Blondie might have done it. She looks back in time another ten years to the early Who with the stomping Carry On and winds up the album with a lullaby of sorts, Everything’s Gonna Be All Right. It’s good to see a cult heroine from thirty years ago still at the top her of game, picking up like she never left off.