June 2001

The Scoldees - My Pathetic Life
Off Hour Rockers Records SPP-02
Released: 2000

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Folk rock isn’t what it used to be. What was it? Basically, rock ‘n' roll that rocked a little less and thought a little more. It was rooted in the folk revival of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s (which fed off the blues and its bastard cousin, country), the same populist spirit only with chiming electric guitars, drums, and other instruments thought to be heretical by purists. Of course, the ‘60s were the heyday of folk rock: Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds, you name it. Then someone figured out he could be fast, loud, and smart simultaneously, and the reason for folk rock basically died. There have been exceptions over the years, bands like 10,000 Maniacs and Cowboy Junkies, but they’ve tempered their folkiness with arty and sometimes commercial aspirations.

Enter the Scoldees. Their debut album, My Pathetic Life, has many of the attributes of good old-fashioned folk-rock -- restrained but noticeable electric instrumentation; thoughtful, mid-tempo tunes; and delicate harmonies (OK, forget Bob Dylan on that one). The only thing that separates them from the old guard is that their complaints are about inner space instead of the world at large. No "Blowin’ In the Wind" or "Turn, Turn, Turn" here. In that respect, the Scoldees have more in common with Nirvana and the great, loud navel gazers of the ‘90s. In "All I Want," co-lead singer and songwriter Nancy Sirianni coos: "Do you think that I want too much / I should be happy so what’s my problem / No one has everything so why should / I complain but sometimes I’m lonely" over a loping melody. "My Bright Life" and "My Pathetic Life" cover similar territory -- the lack of control over one’s life, "Bright" using metaphorical terms ("Take my solitude and form it into clay / The form it takes is never exactly what I want to say"), "Pathetic" going straight to the core of the issue ("Can’t believe I’m making music out of my pathetic life").

This isn’t to suggest that My Pathetic Life is a non-stop bummer. "I Go Crazy" is a bouncy tune reminiscent of Don Henley’s "Not Enough Love in the World" without the synthesizers and glossy production. "Cellophane Man," sung by co-lead singer and songwriter Jack Hoffman, has a gritty, bluesy riff, as does "Dragonfly." The jazzy "My Pathetic Life" owes much to Joni Mitchell. "Silly Girl" could be a hit for someone willing to give it the electric jolt it implies but does not deliver.

The production on My Pathetic Life is intentionally lo-fi, the arrangements uncluttered. With the exception of Ted Rydzewski’s bass, the Scoldees only play acoustic instruments. They are competent if not stunning musicians, which complements the recordings. The emphasis here is on songwriting and harmonies, and musical virtuosity would only detract from them. The dirty work of providing electric punch is left to various studio musicians.

If you’re looking to have your adult existential angst served on a feather bed, the Scoldees will serve ably as your waiters. If the noise inside your head can’t be eased by a bunch of polite, restrained vignettes, or if you need to dance to your pain, look elsewhere.