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Noe Venable


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Alternative evocative/eclectic beautiful & fiercepop (early work has folk and western-styled touches)

Status:

Most recent release, Cascadia (2014)

See also:

Noe Venable's site

Comparisons:

Lisa Cerbone, Susan Court.

Girlish voice reminiscent of Lisa Germano and Julie Miller, though music is different; sometimes I'm reminded of PJ Harvey. The whispering, speaking and shouting remind me of some 80s punk poetesses.... (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Covers/own material:

Own; very occasional co-writing

General comments:

Music that is both stories and songs, neither aspect weaker than the other, is wonderful to be captured by.
      With Boots and the world is bound Noe Venable has reached a level where I'd recommend *all* ectophiles download some tracks from her website to see if they like her music! Her lyrics and music are distinct and fascinating; not all of her songs are as good as her best ones yet, but that's the problem with creating such striking songs as 'Juniper' and 'Prettiness.' I'd call some of the songs theatrical. I mainly prefer the sung stuff to spoken, though it's not that she declaims poetry against background music—she can speak/whisper/declare very melodically, as suits the music. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Comments about live performance:

Masterful intricate art. There are moments that don't work for me, but for the biggest part, I am grateful for the chance to finally listen to Noe during ectofest. Can't wait to see more performances. (9/07, adamk@zoom.co.uk)

The music was lovely, of course. Backing Noe were Greta on piano/glockenspiel (+ vocals), cello (+male vocals), and flute/saxophone (+ male vocals). Noe thanked us for welcoming her new songs, newborn and just tottering on their legs.
      New songs: ''Lives here somewhere', inspired by an [8th?] century Chinese poem about hermits (holy men?) that was about someone searching for hermits and not finding them but the search becoming the purpose. This was a stunner. At first the male vocals with Noe's sounded a bit anachronistic, like Elizabethan song, but then they came together in soaring wordless polyphony and it was oh so lovely. 'Fathering sun' also had gorgeous melding voices and a complex structure of pieces; it was epic. 'Ghazal' was a Sufi poem put to music for a Harvard Divinity class. The song was more straightforward, and though pretty, went on a bit. Noe's songs often end with repetition—she smiles and sways with her eyes shut and sings the same thing over and over, and sometimes it's transporting, and sometimes my mind wanders. Sufi 'Honey of experience' was also lovely, though less lush than its full band version at the Zipper Factory.
      All the other stuff was great. The encore request 'Feral' featured amazing sight-reading by the cellist and ad-libbing by the saxophonist, neither of whom knew the song. Ending with 'Boots' and then 'Feral' highlighted for me one thing I miss in Noe's music—the latest album and the new songs don't have the rhythms or sexy bass or any sort of rocking out. Dan pointed out that Noe said they were new and not fully formed, so who knows how they'll end up. Good point. I think too that these spiritual songs are leading her away from certain sounds. 'Lives here somewhere' and 'Fathering sun' are more of the monastery than grimy urban streets like the Boots album. Not ascetic—no shunning the impure and worldly, since she embraces and celebrates so much of nature and art—but spiritual and beautiful rather than dying transvestites and abandoned cars :) (8/08, k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Noe was sublime; we were sublimated.
      I'm with Karen's review on pretty much everything. "Lives Here Somewhere" was particularly stunning; while I was listening to it, and also to "Fathering Sun," I got the impression that some big cosmic event was Happening right there in front of me. I was a little frustrated at the end because so many good things had happened by that time that I couldn't remember much about how the earlier songs had sounded. I hope I get to hear them again.
      The Zipper Factory version of "Honey of Experience" was an even more brilliant performance (though after what I heard this evening I find myself asking if that's really possible). (8/08, ciriwe@phobot.net)

Noe Venable performed this evening at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture's coffeehouse. Lots of new songs.
     Noe performed solo with acoustic guitar. "Sparrow" was utterly amazing; I didn't miss the backing musicians at all. I was impressed in general at how little diminished her music is without the larger band. She mentioned that she likes performing solo because it gives her an opportunity to relate the stories behind songs, which she doesn't necessarily want to do when she has a group of musicians with her. (9/11, psfblair@ix.netcom.com)

Recommended first album:

the world is bound by secret knots

Recordings:


No Curses Here

Release info:

1998—Intuition Music—INT 3508 2

Availability:

Noe Venable's site

Ecto priority:

Recommended for those who like story songs, western-flavoured pop, or Noe Venable fans

Group members:

Noe Venable—vocals, acoustic guitar, boot

Guest artists:

Tom Meshishnek—electric guitars, acoustic guitars, mandolin
Alan Lin—violin
Viktor Krauss—bass
Scott Amendola—drums, tambourine, shaker, handclaps
Ryan Rosenberg—pedal steel guitar
Rob Burger—piano
Dan Rieser—handclaps

Produced by:

Lee Townsend

Comments:

This album is full of songs that evoke stories, all with different flavours. There are moments, as in "Papa Ain't Comin' Home", "No Curses Here" and "3 am Call" when there's a jazzy, funky Rickie Lee Jones feel, and others that have a western feel ("Jawbone Canyon", "Alcina's Things"). "Paint Mine Blue" and "On Time" taste of western blues. (Neile)

Down Easy

Release info:

2000—Petridish Records—003

Availability:

Noe Venable's site

Ecto priority:

Recommended for those who like story songs, edgy pop, or Noe Venable fans

Group members:

Noe Venable—guitar, vocals

Guest artists:

Alan Lin—violin
Todd Sickafoose—bass

Comments:

Recorded live at Mo's Melody Mansion on January 29th, 2000.

This album has much more of an alternative pop sound (and less of the western flavour) than No Curses Here. There's very little audience noise at all, so this doesn't sound particularly like a live album. Several of the songs also appear in studio versions on Boots. I like the songwriting on this and of course the performances, but I don't find it as powerful as her later work. (Neile)


Boots

Release info:

2003—Petridisc Records—004

Availability:

Noe Venable's site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Noe Venable—guitar, mandolin

Guest artists:

Alan Lin—violin
Todd Sickafoose—bass, B-3 organ, piano, keyboards, guitar, loops, programming
Scott Amendola—drums
Morris Acevedo—guitar on 3 tracks
Rob Burger—chamerlin, pump organ, solovox, indian banjo
Etienne de Rocher—harp on 1 track
Michael Witcher—dobro on 1 track

Produced by:

Todd Sickafoose

Comments:

While I like a lot about the previous two albums, Boots is where I started to find Noe Venable's work so compelling. "Boots and "Prettiness" are two beautifully constructed songs that I kept replaying from the moment I got the disc. There are other excellent tracks here, too (the powerful "Stolen Thing" and "My Insomnia", the lovely "Climb", "Look, Luck", and "Julia", the yearning "don't stop crying"), and it's a strong album as a whole. The only song that doesn't really work for me is the hidden track, "Anna Lisa". (Neile)

the world is bound by secret knots

Release info:

2003—Leverkühn Music

Availability:

Noe Venable's site

Ecto priority:

Highest recommendation

Group members:

Noe Venable—voices, guitars, mandolin, wurlitzer

Guest artists:

Todd Sickafoose—piano, keyboards, basses, guitars, programming
Alan Lin—violin, effects
Dan Morris—percussion
Neb Cline—guitars
Andrew Border—drums on 1 track
Justin Morell—acoustic guitar on 1 track

Produced by:

Todd Sickafoose

Comments:

Following the twigs and brambles and evening purples of the lovely cd design, I see this as an album of night garden music. The day is "dissolving into night", and you can hide in Juniper branches, look through droplets on leaves, meet a woman with lilies in her eyes, shoot sparks in the dark, then sleep in the garden and dream a 'midsummer night's dream' about Aslan and the Silver Queen. Listen closely and you'll hear how the whispers, a violin, piano, mandolin and guitars build melody above solid percussion bases, and join with a girlish voice which sings and converses and exclaims.
     Like all gardens there are stars and supporting plants. 'riverWide' opens the album with a ghostly piano line and keyboard hum as the singer secretly awakens. 'Juniper' stands higher, the plucking percussive background so damn toe-tapping, the vocal melody catchy enough that it'd work a cappella. This is one of my favourite songs this year. Noe Venable's lyrics are superb as she lists reasons to not leave her hiding place "safe in the branches of Juniper's arms"—"Mama oh mama don't make me come down 'cause I don't know what will come out of my mouth", "Mama I've seen them the others like me...the silent procession that crosses the snow," "Mama oh mama I'm holding your hand in these glorious dreams in which you understand." I love how in this song and others you're drawn into myth and stories which are unique and personal, but not so personal as to not resonate with the listener. The following 'tower' is lovely as it gently twists around the base of 'Juniper'. It's a gentle tune with a whispered melody and will probably come out of the shadow with more listenings; it ends with the gorgeously sung "you will awaken it's an eventuality".
     'Black Madonna' and the later 'is the spirit here' are album centerpieces full of words and many of the lyrics are spoken. 'Black Madonna' theatrically introduces you to the 'god of strays', and then questions her care of her subjects. 'is the spirit here' steps more lightly in its search for a Presence, with a mandolin and girlish squeals.
     The simpler ballad 'garden' has a gorgeous screeching violin; "I lay my head upon your chest bones of iron". The percussion sounds a bit programmed, as it does elsewhere on the album. 'midsummer night's dream is one of my favourites—gorgeous and sad and full of memories and hope for the future. The music is possibly not so peculiar to Noe Venable as some of the songs (I can imagine other people covering it). She asks, "what kind of creature shall I be?" She dreams in the song 'lilies', but there is a weight of events upon her, which build up along with the drums.
     'feral' is frantic and passionate in its rejection of family and the chants of "I'm not scared I'm not scared". Perhaps it expresses discomfort with becoming a grown-up. Many of these songs are children hiding or unsure or dreaming. There's a fascinating and magical world of protective trees and madonnas, and skeleton ladies and book characters that she identifies with, but the 'real world' covered in 'Black Madonna' and 'is the spirit here?' is full of dirtiness and ugliness. Elsewhere, in the world of adults, the man in the catchy 'simple song' has turned her as 'silver as a widow', and her wings were cut to stumps in the bouncy piano cabaret 'wings again'.
     Then in the song snippet 'doll comes to life', Noe Venable says "Find yourself another doll to pin your dreams upon/ Find yourself another doll 'cause this one's leaving", so perhaps there is some other way out and away rather than joining in with that ugly world. Against the stately piano chords of 'in the dark' Noe Venable sings of how she found a way to "touch" and "taste" and "kiss and dance and scream" unafraid in the dark. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

karen described that record so well all I can add is "me too!" I believe we're onto a winner here—if not my CD of the Year, then definitely a contender for the title. "Juniper", "Black Madonna" and "Feral" are my favourites as well. "Juniper" has been earworming its way around my brain for most of today, to my great relief actually, since it wedged out some ditty about camel toes that was stuck there for a while... Noe Venable on this record at least reminds me a bit of Hannah Fury—the style and arrangements are different, but somehow she seems to be coming from similar place. I would say it's an essential purchase. (afries@zip.com.au)

A brilliant album: a total ecto indie/edgy pop gem, with great lyrics and songcrafting. Great songs. This is my latest obsession, and I just can't get enough of it. I felt a little bit this way about boots, especially the title song, but this entire album grabs me and keeps me hitting replay. There are so many killer songs here. I'd heard the live version of "Juniper" that is available on her website so I was a little prepared for this album but the recorded version is so much more intense than an mp3 file can be, and the album is full of other such powerful songs, like "feral" and "Black Madonna", and...I could name just about every track. The album also has a wonderful flow from track to track, sometimes powerful sometimes subtle and often both together.
     If you haven't been tempted to try Noe's work before this, do try this one. After getting boots I had to work backwards and get her other discs and have liked them all, but this is the kind of album that takes the top of my head off. (Neile)

Oh my. With this album Noe Venable takes a step from the good to the truly great. There are so many things to love about this album...the lyrics, which are both mythical and real. The melodies and Noe's girlish but strong voice. Her excited cries in "is the spirit here?", the myth of "black madonna".
     This is one of those albums where everything sounds right and nothing is out of place. It's soothing and yet there's an almost tangible intensity about it. This is an album that will wash over you like a river. It's one of the year's best. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)


The Summer Storm Journals

Release info:

2007—641444015023

Availability:

Noe Venable's site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Noe Venable—voices, acoustic guitars, piano, keyboards

Guest artists:

Todd Sickafoose—basses, keyboards, programming, also piano on "Prayer for Beauty", "Ice Dragons", "Sparrow I Will Fly", and "Onion, One Day"
Dean Sharp—drums, percussion
Alan Lin—violin on "Lion Dreams", "Sparrow I Will Fly", "Flower in Time", "Fangs of Discipline"
Jacob Lawson—violin on "Into the Wild", "Ambassador"
Adam Levy—electric guitar, also acoustic guitar on "Lion Dreams"
Payton MacDonald—marimba
Russ Johnson—trumpet
Justin Kantor—cello
Duncan Neilson—additional keyboards on "Prayer For Beauty"
Ken Rich—additional programming on "Into the Wild", bass on "Prayer For Beauty"
The Crickets of Saint Dorothy's—as themselves

Produced by:

Noe Venable and Todd Sickafoose

Comments:

This is essential ecto listening, especially if your tastes run toward the cerebral (e.g. Veda Hille, Emily Bezar). Plus, it's simply *gorgeous*. It's going to take a while for the whole thing to unfold, I think...but it will be well worth the trip. (meth@smoe.org)

Summer Storm Journals—how about that "Ice Dragons," huh? The whole album is really lovely. (ciriwe@phobot.net)

I didn't think she would be able to top her last album, but I was wrong. (yngveh@pingvin-it.no)

Noe's current release is very interesting, and I find "Ice Dragons" repeating endlessly in my head in a kind of hypnotic drone...That's a compliment, because I really like Ice Dragons... (ken_d.lists@comcast.net)

The Summer Storm Journals is definitely album-of-the-year material. Noe keeps talking about how much she learned about production and arrangement this time around, and how much labor she put into crafting this recording, and you can really hear that. If God is in the details, these details are beyond heavenly. (You might even say that, Like Ra, she's been a BUSY GOD. Ba-dum-bum). Beyond "Ice Dragons," listen to the piano runs and horns in my favorite track, "Army of Nows." Completely amazing. Also listen to ["Swim With Me"] and to the one with the crickets, where she has that one chill-inducing piano chord that sounds exactly the one in Laura Nyro's "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp." (timjy@sbcglobal.net)

Like the world is bound by secret knots, this is an amazing, singular album, full of gorgeous songs and sounds, high on my list of favourites for the year. More than the sum of its parts. Highly, highly recommended. (Neile)

It's growing on me. To be honest, my first reaction was that it was too "precious," but I'm liking it more and more. I can certainly appreciate the artistry, in any case. (lotterose @ gmail . com)


Cascadia

Release info:

2014—Viriditas—6 41444 15112 7

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Noe Venable—vocals; guitar; piano (1)

Guest artists:

Todd Sickafoose—acoustic bass, piano, harmonium, hammered dulcimer, zither, glockenspiel
Mathias Kunzli—drums, percussion, jaw harp
Payton MacDonald—marimba, vibes
Yair Evnine—cello, vocals
Alan Lin—violin, vocals
Odessa Chen—vocals
Asa Marder—vocals (8, 9)
Calvin Wisner—vocals (8, 9)
Greta Gertler—string arrangement (6)

Produced by:

Noe Venable

Comments:

I have listened to it a few times and while I don't have a fully formed review, I can say it's more of the awesome stuff we've come to expect from Noe Venable. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

I'm enjoying Cascadia too! I'm having that difficult I-know-these-songs-in-different-forms-so-why-are-they-different-here? adjustment problem. It's odd how strong a memory of a song can be; it's been years since she played them live. I adore the songs. There are a few arrangements that are a bit '60s folk or with plinkity-plonk marimba or something, rather than the swaying urgency of my memory versions!
     "The Hidden Word" is one of my favorite bits of music ever with its mystical and image-full lyrics and early music feel. The recording of "Fathering Son" is perfect and the song is so majestic, it isn't a historical piece or cutesy folk reimagining of pagan worship but instead very immediate.
     I think there was a Garden song or two that I loved that might not be on here. And then there are songs I don't know or know less well, but I'm currently (unjustly) ignoring them because I'm so happy to hear old friends. I need to embrace the album as-is rather than all the possible albums I was imagining over the years. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Lovely and woodsy. Fans won't be disappointed. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I did not know Noe Venable before but her willingness to experiment with instrumentation reminds me a lot of Ellipse-era Imogen Heap. Rating: 52/100. Best track: "Goldenrod." (raschee@gmail.com)


Thanks to Karen Hester, Anna Maria Stjärnell, and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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