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Brenda Kahn


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Her first two albums feature a sometimes bluesy contemporary folk that's been described as Anti-folk or Punk-Folk. Subsequent albums have featured a meshing of alternative rock, folk/rock, and spoken word.

Status:

Most recent release, Seven Laws of Gravity (2010)

See also:

Brenda Kahn's site

Comparisons:

The witty and poetic lyrics in her best work remind some of Bob Dylan or Ani Difranco. She's shifted styles a lot as well; her electric and harder material is reminiscent of Shirley Manson of Garbage, Patti Smith, Liz Phair, or possibly Hole, while her very quiet recent album reminds some of Kristin Hersh's solo work. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Covers/own material:

Writes her own material; I once heard her do a cover of an old blues song for a sound check, but that's the only one I know of.

General comments:

Epiphany in Brooklyn is certainly is a good choice, though i don't know if i would put in my desert island list. her first album, Goldfish Don't Talk Back is fantastic. i almost like it as much as Epiphany in Brooklyn. I was less than thrilled with Destination Anywhere. Definitely track down her first album though. fully worth it! i used to be a huge fan, back during her "anti-folk" period. my fave being Epiphany in Brooklyn followed closely behind by her debut Goldfish Don't Talk Back. i was disappointed with Destination Anywhere and never bothered to pick up Outside the Beauty Salon because of that. Hunger though sounds rather interesting. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

Brenda Kahn's strength has always been her lyrics. She's certainly the best lyricist I've ever had the pleasure to listen to. Her tales of desolation, her use of rhyming, her vivid images and metaphors leave her right up there with the best lyricists of the last couple generations—Bob Dylan, Ani Difranco, Paul Simon, John Lennon.... She's that good. Her styles veer from folk to rock to punk to spoken word and back and forth again—I even hear she wants to write a book—but it's her lyrics that always have me coming back for more. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Comments about live performance:

Brenda Kahn was a treat to see since I've been a big fan of her Epiphany in Brooklyn CD for years and this was the first time I've been able to see her. Most of her fans there, like me, seemed to be most familiar with the songs from that album. Anyway there were lots of requests for songs from that album and she pretty much played all of them, including mine for "In Indiana". She even managed to get in a song or two from her setlist from time to time. :-) Anyway she was fantastic, and had a harder edge to her music that I didn't remember from the album. Very nice! (kamesan@geocities.com)

I saw Brenda on Oct. 6, 1998, in a performance for her Hunger tour. She appeared with bassist Ernie Adzentoivich, and sang most of the new CD. The songs from the new CD, much of it written in the wake of Jeff Buckley's death, isn't exactly light material. But she balanced it nicely with her higher-energy, earlier material. Kahn nicely mixed such old classics as "Mint Juleps and Needles" (my personal all-time favorite Kahn song), "Spoon", and "Guillotine" with new classics like "Christopher Says" and "Queen of Distance". She also played a hilarious new song I loved called "Lately You", and told some funny jokes and stories about New York to us, a bunch of midwestern college kids. About 250 showed up for the show, and Brenda sold a lot of CDs, so hopefully she'll come back. It was like a dream come true for me. There's a link with photos from the show at The Common Grounds Coffeehouse site, by the way. One complaint: a much too-short hour-long set, plus she played nothing from Goldfish Don't Talk Back. There's an article and photo about this very concert at this page. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Recommended first album:

Epiphany in Brooklyn, or possibly Goldfish Don't Talk Back

Recordings:


Goldfish Don't Talk Back

Release info:

1990—Community 3 Records—Re-issued by Through Being Cool in 1997 (P.O. Box 1460, NY, NY, 10009)

Availability:

Hard to find in record stores. Order directly from Brenda Kahn's official website

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Produced by:

Albert Garzon

Comments:

this album is fantastic. i almost like it as much as Epiphany in Brooklyn. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

It's definitely in the Epiphany in Brooklyn vein, except more political. There is a wonderful, angry song called "Egg on Drugs" that is one of the most clever political rants I have ever heard. There's also tons of other great songs ("Paper Dragons", "Coal Train Blues", the title track) and the album is nearly as fine as Epiphany in Brooklyn. I've seen Brenda Kahn described as an "ironic blues" singer once, and this album probably best represents this. Perhaps her voice doesn't sound as well as on Epiphany in Brooklyn; her youth is very evident. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

I liked Goldfish Don't Talk Back a lot better than Epiphany in Brooklyn—it's rawer, the epitome of the "anti-folk" movement in which Brenda Kahn is often listed as a major force. (meth@smoe.org)


Epiphany in Brooklyn

Release info:

1992—Columbia/Chaos Records

Availability:

The only Brenda Kahn album that had a full domestic release. It sold 25,000 copies, and can be found in most better record shops, and a few pop up in used CD stores fairly often. It can also be ordered from Brenda Kahn's official website

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Produced by:

David Kahne, Brenda Kahn

Comments:

I own well over 600 CDs, and Epiphany in Brooklyn is my favorite. And there's nothing even close. Brenda Kahn is the finest lyricist in the world. The poetry and images still ring true with every listen, even four years after I first heard the album. "She's in Love", the brilliant "Mint Juleps and Needles", the tortured "My Lover", the sublime "Mojave Winters", desperate "Madagascar", "In Indiana", "Sleepwalking"...this album is full of classics. Kahn speaks from the underbelly of society here, but she does it in a way that makes it deeply personal for anyone listening. It's angry and full of angst, but sly and funny throughout. A superb album that any fan of superb lyrics. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

I almost gave up on this disc halfway through the first track, something about it really rubbed me the wrong way, but luckily I stuck with it because there are some real gems on this. This is one of those rare CDs where the songs keep getting better and better the farther I get into the CD. The first track is still my least favourite, but Epiphany in Brooklyn is an incredible album. (kamesan@geocities.com)

Yet another haunting slice of someone's world...I like the mandolin, acoustic guitar, and cello too. If I could describe the topics of the songs briefly, it would be about "lost souls"; human beings struggling with the lack of humanity in present-day society (but perhaps humans, by their nature, are "inhuman" until they actually evolve to the point that as a group they can manage their societies in such a way as to realize their dreams of a loving and accepting culture? another discussion...). Cuts which stood out in my mind were "Mojave Winters", "She's In Love", heck, all of them.... It is very different in a lot of ways to what I usually listen to (which doesn't say much, because most of what I listen to is quite different with respect to one another...people at work can never figure out what type of music I'll like, bikini kill, rap, or early Happy Rhodes...)
     Her songs all seem like such reflections of the chaos and disharmony which is manifest in this world, even in their effects on me, because I really identify with the alienation and frustration *I perceive* in the songs, but when I go read the words, I find they're really about different topics than I first *felt*, but the feeling is still valid—so I guess what I'm trying to say is that the songs speak on many levels, because one can "understand" them without logically understanding them.... so I guess we can be thankful that some people are able to transform the discord around us into art; so is chaos the source of poetry? (rholmes@cs.stanford.edu)


Destination Anywhere

Release info:

1996—released on Shanachie Records—SHA-5708

Availability:

Widely available

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Guest artists:

Jeff Buckley on "Faith Salons"
Vinnie Dombroski of the band Sponge on "Too Far Gone"

Produced by:

Tim Patalan

Comments:

Though very different from her earlier work, I still consider Destination Anywhere to be a great album. It's based mainly on the strength of five songs right in the middle that couldn't be more different from each other and represent the eclecticism that this album embodies. Starting with the decidedly punk "Spoon," in which Kahn sounds like Courtney Love (Hole), we see Kahn's still vivid—but this time hilarious—lyrics embarking on a whole new sound. "Faith Salons," co-written with the great Jeff Buckley, who also sings backup, is beautiful and haunting. Spoken in a hushed whisper, the song is unlike anything I've ever heard and fully satisfying. "Yellow Sun" could have been a radio hit, and its poppy-alternative-rock sounds like a choice cut from a Garbage album (but they don't have lyrics like this!). Vinny Dombrowski of Sponge adds some able backing vocals to "Too Far Gone," which is funny and sad and has some great metaphors. Last and certainly not least is "Night," which features Kahn in Patti Smith mode, poeticizing and ranting about a lonely waitress. The song moves from an easy rock jive and climaxes with a desperate wail against "the man". The rest of the album might be a little uneven, and it's hard not to miss the acoustic sounds of Epiphany in Brooklyn, but the gems and joys of this album should not be ignored. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

I would recommend it highly to Liz Phair fans. Brenda's great. (Meth@smoe.org)

I've listened to the two songs ("Yellow Sun" and "Spoon") a handful of times, and they are starting to grow on me. Didn't make a strong first impression though. They still have a slightly generic sound to me. I'm completely unfamiliar with her older stuff, so I can't make a comparison. The two songs on here sound nothing like Liz Phair to me though. (neal)


Outside the Beauty Salon

Release info:

1997—Shanachie Records—SHA-5721

Availability:

Some good record and online stores, also available from Brenda Kahn's official web site

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Produced by:

Tim Patalan, Brenda Kahn

Comments:

This is more continuation of Brenda Kahn in alternative rock mode. I prefer her acoustic, but thought Destination Anywhere was really great in places. Kahn's waltzy types of songs, "Heather", the lovely "I Believe in You", and "Alice" are the gems here. They're kind of chirpy blues, and I loved the irony in them They're all produced by Tim Patalan, who produced about half of the tracks here. The other half, produced by Kahn herself, tended to be darker. Sometimes this is used to great effect, as in "Hey Romeo," and sometimes they seem tired as "Matador". Not tired as in dull, but tired as in drained. Brenda's vocals sound tired here at time, like she's too drained to fight back at all the desolation. I miss the fight that we had in her previous albums. Still, this doesn't pervade; there are some really great moments here. My favorite is the quasi-love song "Guillotine," which features some spot-on images and hilarious lines. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Hunger

Release info:

1998—Rocket 99 (Brenda Kahn's own label)

Availability:

Currently only available from Brenda Kahn's official web site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Produced by:

Brenda Kahn

Comments:

It's all very spare compared with her earlier work, but it's more of a return to her acoustic roots than her previous two albums (Outside the Beauty Salon and Destination Anywhere). It took a while to grow on me, but Hunger is now one of my favorite Brenda Kahn albums. I think the best tracks are the title track, "Hunger", "Dictaphone", and "Sidestep the Bullet". The latter one is very sad, making me think it was about Jeff Buckley.
     Anyhow, just being the loyal Brenda Kahn delegate I'm always trying to be, as her music has done more for me than anyone else's...
     The album is another drastic change of style for Kahn here as she offers an all acoustic and spoken word album. Defiantly quieter than any of her other works, this stark work is absolutely haunting. Done with little instrumentation and recorded on a two-day schedule, we hear so much—Kahn breathing, her fingers sliding along the guitar strings, Ernie Adzentoivich's bass creaking. It makes for very personal listening experience, not unlike some of Kristin Hersh's solo work. Written in the wake of close friend Jeff Buckley's death, much of the album centers on the issue of death. The best of these include the gut-wrenching "Sidestep the Bullet", the ominous "Messiah," and the excellent title track. It's a sad, sad record, but well worth the listen. Kahn's singing is nicely uneven—she veers from a hushed whisper to unsubtle howls in ways that always keep you guessing. That's good—the album's slight weakness would be its overall sameness; the sound is broken up only by the jazzy shuffle of "Christopher Says." Quiet intensity is a cliché, but it describes this album well.
     Glenn McDonald has a very good review of the album at The War Against Silence. (miazgama@pilot.msu.edu)

Further info:

Brenda Kahn appeared on a compilation called Lach's Antihoot: Live...At Sidewalk Cafe. The CD features a lot of anti-folk artists performing live songs. Brenda's contribution is "Grout," which is a fantastically hilarious song. Not one that gets by on its lyrical strength, it succeeds with the intense strength of Kahn's performance. It's a real hoot to listen to, and a must for all Kahn fans. Available at online stores.


Thanks to Mark Miazga for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2011-05-04 17:55:31.
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