Review by Seth Rogovoy
If I’m lucky, I stumble upon one new (or new to me) musical artist per year who captures my attention in such a way as to make me an instant fan and a believer that there are still musical discoveries to be made and new voices that can vie with longtime favorites. Last year, for example, it was Benjamin Clementine, whose October 2016 concert at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass., more than confirmed the promise of his recordings (see my review here). In more recent years, I felt similarly about Simi Stone, Allison Miller, and perhaps the National. A thin list, yes, but that’s my point – performers at this level, who can capture my attention after nearly four decades of being a full-time, part-time, and now intermittent music critic, are few and far between.
Now, just as the clock winds down on 2017, I have stumbled upon this year’s model: Elizabeth Ziman, who records and performs as Elizabeth & the Catapult, whom I caught in the intimate confines of the Barn at the Egremont Village Inn, a more-than-welcome and much-needed new (or, more correctly, reborn) nightclub that has reinvigorated the live music scene in Southern Berkshire.
A dazzling performer who writes disarmingly catchy pop tunes that in another era would be instant Top 10 hits, Elizabeth has it all going on: vocal and instrumental virtuosity that betrays both her conservatory training and her inborn talent; a flair for storytelling, character portraiture, and lyrical riffs; a brilliant and diverse compositional palette that simultaneously allows her music to go anywhere it needs to while also remaining part of an overall, coherent, and personal style; and the gift of a natural ease onstage, an easy rapport with an audience ranging from solo piano ballads through R&B-infused, guitar-based hard-rocking full-band dance numbers.
I hesitate to delineate influences and comparisons – there are so many of both but Elizabeth is truly a musical foundry in which whatever has come before, whatever she has heard, studied, unconsciously absorbed, is mixed and purified into her own Elizabethan ore. It’s a musical metal where Joni Mitchell (don’t blame me for the overused comparison – Elizabeth covered two Mitchell songs and thanks her on her new album, “Keepsake”) sits comfortably aside Philip Glass, Laura Nyro, Tori Amos, any number of Motown and Stax-Volt singers, Bjork, Kate Bush, Regina Spektor, Benjamin Clementine, Lou Reed, Phil Spector, Fleetwood Mac, Jimmy Webb, Amy Winehouse … stop me whenever you feel like it. Elizabeth is not copying any of these antecedents – rather, she could well be peers with any one or all of them, and if there were any justice in popular music (which there is not and hasn’t been for several decades), you’d be hearing her songs every time you turned on your radio. And singing along.