Larissa Shmailo, a New York based poet, has recently released her second CD, "Exorcism" (SongCrew Records, 2008). On "Exorcism," Shmailo runs the gamut from straightforward political work ("Warsaw Ghetto") to more lyrical and evocative work ("Bhakti" and "Mapping"), with much of the work being backed by well chosen music that always enhances and never overwhelms.
Shmailo has a supple, adpatable voice; her ability to match pace and dynamics to the subject matter of these wildly different poems is a testament to her ability to make each piece come alive in the most effective fashion. From the opener, "Warsaw Ghetto," a series of personal, powerful statements of identity by people involved in the struggle for individual freedom and human dignity from several episodes in history, to the devilishly inventive pair of poems that follow it ("Dancing With The Devil," in which the speaker declares that "I love dancing with someone who can really lead"; and "How To Meet And Dance With Your Death," a matter of fact how-to recipe for finding your destiny through excess), to the more lyrical work of "Mapping" and "He follows her...," there is something for everyone here, and Shmailo reveals herself here as a poet of great scope and skill.
The recording itself only adds to this. In "Skin," a doubled vocal adds an eerie touch to the seductive text. The samples that back up "The Gospel According to Magadelene" include Thin Lizzy, the Supremes, and Led Zeppelin, which lend a modern twist to this retelling of the tale of Mary Magdelene from her point of view.
Standout tracks include a cover of Anna Ahkmatova ("Dante"), the aforementioned "Mapping," and the poems "Bhakti" and "Bloom." "Bloom," in particular, is a revelation -- a surreal and sonically shattering tumble of words and images inspired by Colette, James Joyce, and George Sand.
The album's closing track, "Exorcism (found poem)" is interesting, though a real departure from the rest of the album. A faux-Gregorian chant using the words of author M. Scott Peck on the 1968 My Lai massacre, a notorious incident from the Vietnam war, "Exorcism" uses repetition and asecending pitch to build a picture of horror that reminds one of Hannah Arendt's chilling description of the "banality of evil." The ending of the piece is truly unsettling.
Throughout this album, Larissa Shmailo consistently delivers on the promise of poetry as an oral art form. Although I can imagine that the pieces included herein would work well on page (and would love to see more than a few of these, so I could read them as well), this is a testament to how well a poetry CD can work with careful attention to the details of the production. That the poetry itself is as strong as it is is the most obvious reason that "Exorcism" is as good as it is.
Larissa Shmailo on Myspace: www.myspace.com/larissashmailoexorcism
Also available through ITunes, CD Baby, and Rhapsody
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