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A Worthwhile Investment: Naomi Greenwald, May 23 at Mojo’s PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 20 May 2009 08:25

Naomi GreenwaldMany people lost a big chunk of their savings in last year's stock-market plunge, and that could have included Naomi Greenwald.

But before the markets tanked, Greenwald took her savings out. That money's now gone, but at least she has something to show for it: her self-titled debut album.

The Los Angeles-based Greenwald, who will be performing a free show at Mojo's on Saturday (in a duo with guitarist Jason Orme, who was part of Alanis Morissette's band), said that she has long been torn between school and music. She's 28 now and has just finished the second year of a five-year Ph.D. program at USC.

And when she brought her songs to producer Rudy Haeusermann for this project, she hadn't performed publicly in more than two years.

"I didn't know what I was going to do with them," she said last week. She knew she wanted to record them, she added, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to license them or pursue a more active music career, putting out albums and playing live and the like.

Her seven-song debut -- independently released earlier this month -- provides the answer, as did last week's record-release show at the famous/notorious Viper Room. That doesn't mean that Greenwald has visions of rock stardom, but that she wants to see if she can be an active artist while also being a student and teacher. "I've committed myself in a very public way," she said.

Deliberate and tonally cool, the record is too low-key to make a major impact, but it is musically rich for the singer/songwriter genre and unerringly deft. The arrangements are detailed but clean and never rote. The massed stringed instruments of "Daedalus," for example, suggest a musical confidence in direct opposition to Greenwald's career indecision. On "Foolish," the accents include a flat, bleak left-channel guitar -- barely there -- in the opening moments and the moan of a cello mid-song. The foundation for the moods is laid by the music, often subtly.

"Foolish" is the only song that gives Greenwald the opportunity to really let loose with her vocals, and it's the album's best showcase. Without it, you might get the idea that her voice isn't a forceful instrument, when the reality is that it's held back a bit in the mix. If you know that she considered licensing these songs, their suitability for background music becomes clear to a fault.

But the record is less a statement than an introduction, and her voice as both a singer and a songwriter is alluring. Its character and her phrasing combine into a dreamy expressiveness that floats just out of reach.

Although Greenwald doesn't come form a musical family, her parents encouraged their children to explore music, and when she picked up a guitar at age 14 (after playing the piano and violin), she was hooked.

Her decision to attend New York University for undergraduate studies was partly fueled by her desire to pursue a music career. But "I was so intimidated in college," she said. "I wrote, but I didn't ever play out. Not once."

She made some efforts at a public music career after college, but she never got far, and she was always drawn back to the study of literature. "I never did it particularly right," she said of music. "At 28, I feel like I'm approaching it very differently than I did when I was 21."

Greenwald said she'd like to continue to record, but if music never provides a steady income, she said she has no regrets. "I'll just be happy that I did this -- that I finally went for it."

Naomi Greenwald will perform at Mojo's (in the River Music Experience, 129 Main Street in Davenport) on Saturday, May 23. The show starts at 7 p.m., and admission is free.

Greenwald will also be featured on Iowa Public Radio's Java Blend program the weekend of June 6 and 7. For more information, visit IowaPublicRadio.org/javaBlend.php.

For more information on Greenwald, visit MySpace.com/naomigreenwald.

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