Christine Costanzo, Christine Costanzo (Journey to the East Records, 2002)
Christine Costanzo, Big Sky (Journey to the East Records, 2003)

Originally from rural Ohio, Christine Costanzo moved to Madison, WI in 1994 and has been part of the folk scene for three years. Last year saw the release of her first recording while her debut album is fresh off of the presses.

Christine Costanzo is a 3-song EP featuring only her smooth, Joan Baez-like voice and acoustic guitar. The lead track, "Huck Finn," lazily moves along not unlike the river and carefree characters in its lyrics. A quietly picked guitar introduces "Lay Your Love Down." With her beautiful voice full of longing, Costanzo contemplates a lover and solemnly pleads: "don't you think it's time/we laid our love down?" The mood shifts once again for the last song, "Reap What You Sow." Musically, the song has a bluesy feel but the lyrics are of defiance. A farmer is forced to sell his farm and pours his contempt on the banker, presumably, who is buying the land: "But I'm gonna die a wealthy man/the knowledge in these hands/you'll never understand."

Costanzo's guitar playing is not slick but it doesn't need to be. It suits the songs fine and allows her highly expressive voice to shine.

For her first full-length album, Costanzo enlisted the help of various musicians to flesh out her sound. In addition to her guitar and voice, Big Sky features bass, fiddle, banjo, etc.

"Appalachian Sky" starts things off and it encapsulates what Costanzo's songs are all about. Musically, the lonely banjo of Doug Brown hovers in the background, leaving her voice and guitar in the fore. Lyrically, the first stanza says it all: "The landscape of my love for you/lay all along a county road/Winding through the Appalachian foothills and the sky." Her lyrics are steeped in bucolic imagery and chart a landscape of love that is littered with loss and resignation. She continues: "One day admit defeat, melt and take their/place in that sky."

"Nothing Left to Say" finds the narrator of "Lay Your Love Down" throwing up with white flag while the dolorous harmonica of Catfish Stephenson lingers in the background like a fading memory. Chris Wagoner's lilting fiddle weaves its way around the narrator's maudlin pleas in the beautiful "Send Me Back to Ohio." The metaphor of the sky returns in the title track. But instead of an Elysian Field for failed lovers, it is now the chasm between them: "I reached out my hand for you/I saw your eyes fading out of view/Left me with a hand full of air, the sky came between us."

Costanzo dons the protest singer hat and tackles racism on "Sylvia Plath" and "Minor Litterings." While they have catchy melodies, I like my political songs to have more fire and brimstone. I wished she had gotten a bit angrier, a bit more gritty. Still, the musicianship is solid with the understated percussion on the latter particularly effective.

Moving back to the personal realm, Costanzo laments days gone by in "Used To Be So Free." "Darling a north wind's blowing in/And the autumn's all around/Falling." A newly recorded version of "Huck Finn" featuring Wagoner's fiddle lifts the mood a little before leading to the album's closing tune, "All the Songs Unfinished." Costanzo is alone with her guitar again and she plucks out a lonesome melody. But she betrays it by curling her lips around a ray of hope at last: "Silent raindrops meeting still water/There, I know you and I rest/Complete."

Despite the added instruments, the album feels very warm and intimate. It's not a showcase for instrumental virtuosity but rather it's about abetting Costanzo's wonderfully emotive voice as it traverses a landscape that perhaps has a few peaks after all.


[John D. Benninghouse]

For more information about Christine Costanzo
and her music, please visit her Web page