Gena Rowlands Band – La Merde et Les Etoiles

Gena Rowlands Band
La Merde et Les Etoiles

On the first listen of La Merde et Les Etoiles (Shit and Stars), nothing about any of the songs is particularly striking. The instrumentation is more than sparse with only shimmering guitar, subtle strings, and occasional percussion, and each track blends into the next so softly you will have to keep checking to see what song you are listening to. Fortunately, the tides begin to turn on subsequent listens as the delicate nuances of the album unfold.

The group, named for the cult favorite actress and wife of John Cassavetes, plays music that lands somewhere between lounge, jazz, and minimalist chamber-pop and is headed by Washington, D.C. resident Bob Massey. Massey is the mastermind here, writing all of the songs and picking up all vocal duties. He also plays the guitar and piano, which are sometimes the only instruments featured. The other musicians (who seem to rotate from one moment to the next) provide the barely structured texture of the songs whose topics focus squarely on Hollywood and the actresses, directors, and resulting films that feed pop culture.

The lack of traditional arrangements can be frustrating at times, largely because this causes the album to feel like one long, rambling song, but also because a few of the tracks are just too disjointed to be enjoyable. “Power, Lies, Helena’s Lips” is a good example, as the soft lounge music seems like an afterthought to Massey’s vocals and the two just don’t match up. While this could certainly be intentional – in the way the audio track of a movie often doesn’t sync up – here it just disturbs the music in unfortunate ways.

Bob Massey and company are in their best form on La Merde et Les Etoiles for tracks like the opener “Garofalo, C’est Moi” where Massey sings his love to Janeane while decrying the directors who make the actresses’ characters more intriguing than the actual woman. There is also “Easter @ the 7-11,” a sad song for loners with lyrics like “Drink a toast to Ernest Gall, patron saint of supermarket sentiment.” The oddball arrangements work well on songs like “Pilot of a Situation Tragedy” and the album’s bookends, the simply titled “Intro” and “Outro.” Bob Massey also adds a crestfallen spin to Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” on the appropriately titled “Last Words of Lesley Gore.”

La Merde et Les Etoiles is an ultimately dejected-sounding album, which makes it perfect for long nights spent in retrospective solitude – well, that or the time between returning from a drunken night at the bar and falling asleep alone. Although that first listen may not be overwhelmingly positive, subsequent spins of this disc will definitely bring the beauty of Bob Massey’s vision to the forefront.