Christine Costanzo, Café Zoma, Madison, WI, USA, (September 13, 2003)

It was a rainy Saturday when I caught Christine Costanzo at a local café. Amidst the chatter and the roar of the espresso machine, Costanzo delivered an intimate performance armed with just her guitar, voice and a set of mostly original material culled from her EP and new album.

It was hard not to find a parallel between the dark skies and seemingly pervasive melancholy of her music. Starting with the opening strains of "New York Song," Costanzo laid bare a view of love propped up by, in her words, "loss and longing."

Her playing and singing have the starkness of Gillian Welch. Most of the songs featured hushed, gentle melodies but the pace picked up as the terrain became rougher. Costanzo has a beautiful voice that exudes a sense of weariness with a touch of hope. Considering the sparse instrumentation, it was her voice that really carried the songs. Sometimes she has a tender, pleading voice. This is exemplified in "Send Me Back to Ohio" which reminded me of "Oh, Bury Me Not." It's a somber story of a woman from California who meets the love of her life; he takes her to east to Ohio where they begin a family. Upon her husband's death, she finds herself once again in California mourning: "When I go, send me back to Ohio/Bury me where my first love lay."

At other times, her voice is an aching whisper as in "Lay Your Love Down" when she asks, "Do you think I'm afraid to lay my love down?" Costanzo's view on love is rather akin to Richard Thompson's. In "Appalachian Sky" she sings of "the landscape of my love for you" but it seems barren. In "Big Sky," the singer reaches out for her lover but is left with "a hand full of dreams and a/hand full of air." "Used To Be So Free" is more upbeat musically but the lyrics are a lament over days gone by.

Changing the scenery to add a hint of the political was the scornful "Reap What You Sow" in which a farmer loses his farm. Needless to say, he had no kind words for those who forced his hand. A cover of Steve Earle's "Ft. Worth Blues" late in the show was the only non-original. Costanzo ended her set with "All the Songs Unfinished," which also closes her new album Big Sky.

My only complaint was that she didn't try to engage the audience more. There were the obligatory "thank-you"s and pitches for her new album but she refused to tell us about the songs or herself. But I suppose this is part of her style. With an introspective streak a mile wide, she lets her music invite you into her world rather try to drag you into it.

[John D. Benninghouse]

More about Christine and her music can be found at Her next scheduled gig is her CD release party at Café Montmarte in Madison.