Norma Tanega: I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964-1971 Album Review
Imagine the women in Norma Tanega’s songs with arms entwined, against the chill of a Manhattan winter, shaking the sleeve of Bob Dylan coasting. The 1966 semi-hit singer-songwriter “Walk my cat named dogpresented a vision as rounded as that of Dylan or Aretha Franklin: self-mockery as autonomy; folkloric truths stripped of messianism and topicality; lesbian and not too oblique about it. Collect two studio albums with another album’s worth of unreleased material, I’m the Sky: studio and demo recordings, 1964-1971 marks the first meticulous appraisal this multimedia menace has earned, and it’s a good one – the collection makes a case for an artist who could have come of age if her label had known what to do with her and if she had taken the arc of a career that she took her independence.
“I never wanted to be a serious entertainer because I like to laugh too much,” Tanega said. mentioned. The child of a Filipino father and a Panamanian mother, Tanega did not look like other folks. And the outlier turned his birthright into matter. i am the sky“If only I had a name like Norma Tanega” boasts the verse, “He can live up to it / Even though he ain’t Caucasian.” A stint at Claremont College to study classical music precipitated a move to the Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene, where she eventually met Bob Crewe after his demos impressed the Four Seasons songwriter; he and producer Herb Bernstein were captivated by a song Tanega wrote about a cat she was leashing. It was awesome. In the post-Joan Baez era, Crewe and Bernstein fought the temptation to stifle it with solemnity. Perhaps the quietly gay Crewe recognized the sense of fun and the defilement of received forms, the enduring gifts of the homosexual to popular culture.
And what tonal complexity Tanega brought to his writing. The songs don’t stop yucking and giggling. Sardonic epitaph or pirouette on a tombstone, “You’re Dead” uses doom chords to address a “you” that could be Tanega herself or a conference on planned obsolescence: “You won’t have never a second chance/Plan all your moves in advance. The collection includes “I’m the Sky,” not-quite-hippie bullshit kept at bay by its mournful, bassoon-like timbre, which darkens happy songs and heightens sad ones. Even better is “Jubilation,” a sexy-as-hell come-on in which an oboe deepens Tanega’s most amorous melody; the valentine has the cadence of a canticle. “A street that rhymes with 6amwill be his anthem. “Sync your life and go against the grain/Don’t let them tell you they’re all the same” works as advice to a would-be sidekick, or as a confession from a lesbian. The air of loneliness and love in the big city has a wintry coolness.