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Last Minute Plans: Marnie Stern's Musical Grand Slams

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 17, 2013 6:20PM


Marnie Stern brings her distinctive blend of virtuosic guitar playing and diaristic songwriting to the Empty Bottle tonight, April 17. Her latest album is the ingeniously titled The Chronicles of Marnia. Roomrunner and Mayor Daley open.

Allow us a tangent: Recently, Sound Opinions had a baseball-themed episode devoted to "grand slams," in honor of the sport's opening day. That is, artists who had four great albums in a row. (Hence the slamming of grands). As if on cue, one artist in particular reached that milestone not 10 days prior to the episode's air date: Frank Stallone Marnie Stern.

Since her 2007 debut, In Advance Of The Broken Arm, the New York-based Stern has released compelling record after compelling record.

Each one, starting with her best so far, 2008's This is It... (that's not the whole title of the record, just FYI), has found Stern increasingly honing and refining her sound, a dense blend of polyrhythmic percussion, dexterous two-hand tapping, and direct, emotionally-charged lyrics.

March's The Chronicles of Marnia follows the template laid down by Stern's previous effort, her 2010 self-titled album. The music is calmer—meaning less fretboard fireworks, though there are still plenty of those—and the feelings behind the lyrics are clearer.

Marnie Stern dealt with heavy subjects such as the grief in dealing with a friend's suicide with exhilarating transcendence. Marnia's themes deal with self-determination. ("Nothing is Easy," for instance).

When Stern plaintively sings, "Don't you want to be somebody?" on album standout "Noonan," it's hard not to empathize with her struggles and reflect upon your own. Marnia plays as a softer, brighter variant of its predecessor, and much of that is thanks to Oneida drummer Kid Millions, who replaces longtime Stern collaborator and snare-destroying man-machine Zach Hill behind the kit. Millions brings a more groove-orientated approach to Stern's songs, and the result is music that breathes a little easier. Which is fine by us, as anything that allows Stern to be better heard is great for listeners everywhere.

Marnie Stern plays with Roomrunner and Mayor Daley at Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western, 9 p.m., $12, 21+