Frankly I'm always suspicious about the whole music-as-therapy thing: most often the music is godawful, and the lyrics so tortured and self-referential that they rarely reach any further than the bedroom or hospital ward that spawned them.
Which is why I come to Carafice -- institutionalised in Auckland with severe depression in 2005 -- with considerable reservation. And it cuts no ice with me that she was played on bFM because that station wasn't above exploiting Killer Ray in his day, and a number of other "singers" it hailed then discarded back to the streets or obscurity once the programmers or hosts had had their ironic fun.
Well, Carafice is clearly one to make an exception for: her strong songs (recorded in Steve Albini's studio in Chicago with Crowded House engineer Nick Abbott) are disconcertingly angular and although there are -- as expected -- numerous lyrics about oblivion, her "asylum escape song", one for Emily Dickinson and another to a Cruel German Psychiatrist Woman and so forth, she has a compellingly honest voice, a way with a melody, and arrangements which enhance the songs and lift them from bedsit to centre stage.
It helps having Ben King on guitar, and Carafice has her own armory of dobro, piano, mellotron and casiotone.
And in that regard it is interesting she has opened in Chicago (where she now lives) for the very wonderful Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Where he brings more wry humour to play than Carafice, the similarities of lo-fi moody narratives and observations with flashes of understanding and anger are evident.
Carafice also lets rip however -- the abrasive but compelling To Run, the scarily honest Cruel German -- and House on Fire has all the grip of early Velvet Underground.
Yes, Carafice is into her "story", but propelled by a band, the smart song structures, and material that can be quite gripping, this album is well worth serious consideration.
And wasn't it Jonathan Richman who opened a song with that memorable line, "When you get out of the hospital, let me back into your life . . ."?
By Graham Reid, posted