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new problems
New Problems
Tiger Style

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Karla Schickele is an avid music lover. That can sometimes work against a musician; for instance, Karla could suspect her talents to be dwarfed by her favorite musicians' gifts, and thus be hesitant to spotlight them. Likewise, she could worry about failure, and about producing a record she would want to hide in her own collection. These and other fears could prevent her from ever realizing the full potential of her prodigious talent. But why continue to go down this road? This record makes plain that she doesn't have a fear in the world. There's no lack of confidence, skill, or material worthy of her heroes on Karla's New Problems; there's only a lack, ironically, of problems.

This is Karla Schickele's first full-length release under the K. moniker. For it, she enlisted an all-star ensemble of family and friends to make certain that New Problems, which is devoted almost exclusively to her original compositions, never underachieves. Matthew, her brother and fellow Beekeeper, provides bass work and production assistance, while Tara Jane O'Neill, Rose Thomson and members of Ida add spicy xylophone, mysterious thumb piano, slithering guitar, blindfold baritone guitar and other peppery instrumentation. The package is completed by some of the finest photos (courtesy of violinist Ida Pearle) to decorate a CD this year. In short, New Problems showcases Ms. Schickele's talents to stunning effect. These are the desserts that fill us up after the stoned soul picnic delights of Laura Nyro.

As with her contributions for Ida and Beekeeper, few of the originals are immediately compelling. The immediately arresting tracks, ("Play by the Book" and "Fighter Dove") have such adventure in their vocal arrangements and melodies that you can't imagine them ever being played on the radio. Schickele's other fare is even more difficult, but the songs grow on you the way chin and hands and black clothes grew upon the Mona Lisa painting: little by little, occasionally with hesitation, and always with a force of beauty driving them. Unlike many retro acts these days, Karla is a sincere throwback whose spirit recalls Ida Pearle's cover photo. I hear her songs, and I think of girls at the beach, dressed in white, who spot a guitar in the ocean and wonder if the songs of the Mamas and the Papas might have been strummed upon it.

Appropriately, after a guitar sequence in "Knoxville" that recalls an Ida interpretation of Neil Young, Karla turns to a John Phillips gem, and I "got a feelin'" her version cannot be improved upon. Tara Jane O'Neill, who recorded this number, is also credited as playing xylophone in it, and for being patient. Listen to the music, and observe its complexity, and you will understand why. The other "cover" Karla performs is a rendition of Sylvia Plath's "Telegram". What amazes me most about the piece, performed solely by Schickele, is how it never sounds like a poem set to music. In fact, it never even sounds like just a woman and a guitar. It sounds like a hundred Karlas, and I only wish there were a hundred more.

-- Theodore Defosse
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