by Jay Luster
Throughout her career Anni Piper has shown musical versatility that has included forays into jazz, country, and rockabilly yet she has never strayed far afield from her signature blues style. While she hasn’t abandoned Stevie Ray Vaughan’s legacy altogether, she has chosen to dive deeper into other genres resulting in a quirky, interesting record called More Guitars Than Friends. Piper’s writing has always tended towards the autobiographical and has often included biting observations of herself, and of those around her.
While she is coy about whether this record is autobiographical or not, her ability to write in the first-person perspective is on full display as is her trademark bass playing. What is perhaps most interesting is that as the record plays out you realize that, thematically, it is from top to bottom a total concept album. Because Piper herself is an unpretentious person, it is little wonder that she’d tell a ten song story without bashing you over the head with it. That’s just one of the many ironies that make More Guitars Than Friends interesting and likeable.
The first track, Wonder Woman, opens with a slick guitar/bass interaction leading into a rockabilly swing that’s an obvious nod to the song Rock Around the Clock. While that is a tiny bit distracting, it’s the lyrics and her singing that really catches and holds your attention. She observes that her ex is nothing more than a low-down cheater, and she’s a Wonder Woman wondering what she ever saw in him to begin with. Despite the outward anger she’s expressing towards him, she is asking us to understand that she’s really blaming herself for being foolish. The mix of rockabilly and expose works, and the record is off and running.
She follows up with a couple of tracks where she appears to bounce back from the bad break up. Just a Little Bit is an up-tempo blues shuffle, with an outstanding guitar solo, that covers an apparent desire for instant gratification revenge sex. Next up, is the third and one of the strongest tracks on the record Buckle Bunny. Piper is originally from Australia and moved to Florida to bring her closer to her core audience.
Last summer, she toured the US and says, “We went to a bar in Wyoming one night and there was a community square dance going on, and I’d just never seen anything like this before.” The boots, and western shirts, and country dance rhythms proved to be a huge influence, and the result is a revved up honky tonk jump. The song is essentially a list of all the things her ideal man would have. The lyrics begin, “I need a straight shooting, all nighting, boot scooting, fist fighting cowboy, honey for this Buckle Bunny…” and it goes on from there. The result is a joyous, raucous bar burner that ought to be a radio hit. As it is, it fits into the record as the hopeful re-assessment of her view of men and romance.
The next song is the title track More Guitars Than Friends, and it is also a very strong track. Piper introspectively laments that her lifestyle might be the reason for her romantic woes and loneliness. There is a danger that a song like this could turn into a self-conscious expression of narcissism like King of Pain by The Police. However, she easily avoids this trap in two ways. First, the song is arranged like a 1930’s big-band jazz torch song, which is the perfect vehicle for her tortured words. The guitar is watery and tremulous, the drums steadily, rain on the sidewalk, and her bass answers her questions with poignant clarity.
The second is in her vocal performance. While her ability to write songs in genres other than the blues has grown with each new release, it is the emotional maturity of her singing that drives not only this song, but the whole album. Somewhere along the line Piper has figured out a way to be earnest without being obsequious, and ironic without being obvious. Mainly it just seems that, even on an emotionally charged song like this, she’s having fun telling her story. Maybe it’s because, despite the seriousness of the subject, she seems to not be taking herself overly serious.
Following the melancholy interlude of More Guitars Than Friends she gives us Paper Bag, a rather silly song. After the breakup and self-pity, she runs into her ex and his new girlfriend who is just plain ugly. She asks him straight-up if he sticks a paper bag over her head in order for them to have sex? While her observation is kind of cruel, I mean we really can’t help how we look, you can’t help but wonder along with her why people willingly trade down?
After this, the story continues with an outstanding performance of the oft covered Cold Pizza and Warm Beer. The song tells the story of waking up the next day after a night of overindulgence. When put in context of the record as a whole it is the second time she has reacted badly dealing with her ex. Clearly, she has issues and, despite her desire to drink them away, it just isn’t working.
The next song is called Shotgun Wedding. It’s a humorous walk down memory lane explaining how she might have ended up in her bad relationship to begin with. Done to a breezy reggae beat the song features tons of percussion, including a clicking camera. With her tongue planted firmly in her cheek, she tells us that in order to avoid a blood letting, presumably her boyfriend’s blood at the hands of her father, they decided to opt for a spontaneous shotgun wedding. Little wonder their relationship ran into problems.
Soon she finds herself lonely and longing to forgive him for what she knows he’s been doing. The song is called, I’m Lost Without You, and it is easily the most interesting piece on the record. Somehow she meshes two alternating distinct melodies, and beats together to make one successful song. The emotionally wrenching verse is moodily reminiscent of, She’s Not There, or Time of the Season, by The Zombies. The Zombies had a way of creating a kind of mysterious air within their music accented by Colin Blunstone’s introspective singing style.
Piper, while remaining artistically honest, has captured that tone beautifully both instrumentally as well as vocally. The second part, the chorus, is straightforward 12 bar blues. Though it isn’t the only pure blues moments on the record, it is probably the best. Interwoven over the verse music, during a break, is a guitar fill that would not be out of line on Santana’s Abraxas record from the early 70’s. When considering all of its unrelated constituent parts it’s amazing that the song works at all, and yet it not only does, it is probably the best song on the album.
It is at this point when she realizes that her current needs to become her ex, if for no other reason than her own sanity. In the song Eugene, another honky tonk rocker, she finds herself absolutely stunned at the depth, and frequency, of her husband’s deception and declares the marriage over. She lists all the women he has bedded while married to her, and it includes a model, her cousin, her best friend and her best friends’ twin sister. It is a pretty impressive list, and she renders it with just the right amount of outrage and flabbergasted humor. The album ends with her very strong rendition of Blackberry Brandy, which is the epitome of a woman’s broken-hearted drinking song.
More Guitars Than Friends is a strong addition to Anni Piper’s catalog, and many of its songs are already making appearances in her stage show. Though it is a departure from her more popular Texas Blues, and swing music that her fans have come to expect it is a good record that stands up well to repeated listening. The change in style and content is probably due to her choosing to leave her record label and become an independent. She says, “I love the blues, but I can’t be described as a purely blues artist. I’m very much definitely a crossover artist with my music.”
When you hear an album as creatively free as this it’s easy to understand why many artists are choosing to leave the straight jacketing labels behind. Between the middle of June and the end of September, Anni Piper will be on tour this summer covering everywhere from her home in Florida, across the south, all the way to the upper Midwest.
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