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Patti Witten

Prairie Doll
Prairie Doll
2000, Potent Folk Records

Patti Witten sounds quite a bit like Joni Mitchell in rock mode. It’s around the edges where you find the differences. Joni’s voice, at least in her younger days, always seemed ready to leave its perch and soar. Witten’s voice tends to get casually sultry, happy to have an electric guitar, bass and drums to lean into with a catchy/sad lyric. In fact, she has that rare quality of being able to rock convincingly without pushing or raising the volume. She tours the Western New York State area with her band, Prairie Doll, playing in venues with a roots rock, Americana crowd. Those crowds are getting a little more than they might expect. Witten not only does a great job fronting the band, but her songs are lyrically sophisticated and made to be sung.

Prairie Doll is not only the name of her band, but of her extraordinary new six song EP. It is identified in her press material as a "(mostly) live-in-the-studio" recording. The band must have a wonderful rapport with Witten because the songs are as organic and polished as any fully agonized-over production. Perhaps that rapport is helped by Witten's apparent egalitarian spirit—her name appears on the cover of this album only among the listing of the other members of Prairie Doll. Although this is an EP, there is a full album’s worth of favorite tunes.

As if she knows that she’s got to make a good impression fast in this brief album, her album opener, "Wild One," starts off with an infectious slow rock beat and some great lines. "Stable is for horses, careful is for nuns/ Goes fast, gets dirty, dangerous is fun." "Something Beautiful" puts an unusual spin on unrequited love, enjoying feeling sorry for the misdirected affections of her intended, yet realizing that her enjoyment is just a lie to herself. That’s a lot of baggage for a five-minute slow cooker, but it works—a great bit of songwriting.

"Level Green Boys" grabs you with the first line, "I was struck sober on a day like this/ But I wasn’t struck honest or brave." It also has the hookiest chorus of the album. You can tell a great hook when it has a line that you are clueless about—what the heck is a "Level Green boy?"

Prairie Doll rounds out the album with "For You," a nice ballad with some effective harmony singing by Rich DePaolo, "How Long ‘Til It’s Over," a straightforward pop tune, and "Call The Angels," an unpretentious, heartfelt elegy.

After so much fine music, I feel a little greedy wanting more.—Michael Devlin

[Patti Witten's previous album, Land of Souvenirs, received a Picks review in Issue 14 of the Music Matters Review. There are still some copies of this issue available. Click here for more info.]

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