Larissa Shmailo

A Perfectly Realized Spoken Word CD

Review by Jackie Sheeler


Yes, I said perfectly realized no easy task. Most of us, no matter how much we may love the art of the word, don't usually listen to a spoken album more than once -- if you even manage to make it through the entire album at all. Straight spoken word quickly becomes monotonous, while at the other end of the spectrum are albums where the music and/or special FX simply overwhelm the poems. I have listened to this album more times than I can count, and I will listen to it again.

Exorcism avoids both extremes, and does so with exquisite artistry; Larissa is, indeed, "the voice of a new lost generation" as Michael McHugh has said. Beginning modestly, with the deceptively quiet "Vow", Larissa rips straight into "Warsaw Ghetto", the precision of her diction sliding over the energetic but inobtrusive samples like an updated Nina Hagan. Then we return to another short, elegant, unaccompanied poem. This pattern brief "naked" poems alternating with longer fully-produced pieces repeats throughout the album, and it serves Larissa quite well. An artist who needs no accompaniment, she works expertly with rhythm and tempo when utilizing music on a track, achieving a synergy seldom found in this genre.

"The Gospel According to Magdalene" might be my favorite piece, with its slightly threatening rhythm section, its reverberating vocals, and its seamless segue into a pastiche of sampled rock as Larissa's voice swells and quickens, almost as if she is driving the music. I love hearing the "hell hath no fury" line atop Led Zeppelin's Dazed and Confused. To leap from this track into the slightly alien sound of "Skin" and then the twin voices of "Catawissa Road" are very sexy transitions.

Larissa takes a huge risk in the title track, one which totally works: in hypnotic, American-priest-chanting-mass-in-Brooklyn rhythms, she takes us to My Lai, pitching her voice higher and higher as the text lurches toward the inevitable massacre, and just when it seems that she can't go any higher or any faster both rhythm and pitch shift again, occasionally dipping into plainspeak. The tension she is able to sustain throughout the entire, lengthy and unaccompanied found poem is extraordinary. Exorcism is that rare thing, a perfectly realized spoken word CD.

the CD can be purchased on iTunes, or from CDBaby: and, of course, is available at all of larissa's live performances.