Radigan: A Pop-Rock Singer and Songwriter's Greatest Nonhits
By Kurt Wildermuth
Somebody doesn't like Radigan. Most people have never heard of this CD of guitar-based pop-rock by Terry Radigan, a New York City singer and songwriter (not necessarily singer/songwriter). If people heard it, they might love it, like it, or at least acknowledge its merits. For example, lately I've returned to Radigan after not playing it for maybe a decade, and my domestic partner, a supremely astute listener who has nothing at stake when it comes to this music, became intrigued. One day she asked me, "What are you listening to?"
"Terry Radigan's Radigan."
"When did this come out?"
"I've never heard of it."
"Few people have. It was her bid for stardom, and it didn't go anywhere. That's why I'll probably write about it."
"It sounds like she wants people to have fun. Every song sounds different."
"That's part of what I'll write about. Meanwhile, get this: There are four customer reviews at Amazon. One is anonymous. The person is identified only as Amazon Customer and gives the CD one star. The person's review is one word: 'Awful.'"
"That's not very helpful!"
"Amazon Customer doesn't want to be helpful. Whoever it is just doesn't want people to give this obscure recording a chance. But listen to this song. It's called '50 Kisses.'"
"Nice! That's a tango, right?"
"It is. How could you possibly hear this and call it awful? I doubt Amazon Customer even listened all the way to the end of the CD."
My domestic partner agrees: there are awful things in the world. Radigan isn't one of them.
As I write this, the three-star review of Radigan at Amazon calls Terry Radigan "very good at crafting tunes"; the four-star review calls her "strong-willed, sure-voiced, steady-penned"; and the five-star review goes over the top, perhaps overcompensating for Amazon Customer's putdown: "probably the most talented singer/songwriter I have heard in 20 years . . . could be a superstar in the company of Sinatra, Elvis, Celine Dion, she is fantastic, I would buy anything she puts her name on."
Anything? Even if the person is Terry Radigan's biggest fan, even if it's her best friend, the claim seems more rhetorical than factual. Has this fan acquired Radigan's 1995 single, a promo copy of her unreleased 1995 CD, and the CD-R of her 2012 recording?
I confess that I haven't. Nor have I tracked down her early work, with the '90s alterna-pop-folk band Grace Poole; her contributions to compilations over the years; or her recordings as part of VickiChristinaBarcelona, an all-female Tom Waits tribute trio.
No, my heart belongs to Radigan, and I encourage you to give it a listen. You might start with the closing track, the adorable, infectious, and above-named tango "50 Kisses," which is the CD's knockout punch:Let the time fit the crimeIt makes perfect sense as a dynamic closer, inspiring repeat plays of the whole CD. But if "50 Kisses" had been track 2, how many listeners--say, impatient reviewers given promo copies--might have been sold on the music's charms?
Mister you've got life
50 kisses anywhere I say
Settle in boy I've thrown the key away
Instead, track 2 is one of Radigan's weakest, a fluffy pop tune called "G-O-O-D-B-Y-E." The CD might have had more impact on the world if this song hadn't been placed where it is.
Radigan's opener, "My Love Is Real," starts things off promisingly. The song was written by Greg Garing, now a Nashville-based singer/songwriter. In 2020, Lucinda Williams--the legendary Lucinda Williams!--recorded one of Garing's songs on her CD Good Souls Better Angels. Two decades ago, Garing enjoyed some prominence in the small alt-country scene of New York City. He recorded "My Love Is Real" on his debut CD, Alone (1997), and Terry Radigan's version draws on the same trip-hop groove as Garing's, with electric-guitar textures floating over a bed of electronic rhythms. If you like the somewhat sinister atmospherics of Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball (1995), you might like both Garing's and Radigan's versions of "My Love Is Real."
If she had followed that opener with another Radigan song in a similarly melancholy style, such as her cowrite "Let Him Go" ("So will you walk along the river in the rain / Will you let the taxi slowly drive away / Will you walk until the streets all seem the same / Or will you let him go"), it would have given an impression of substance. Instead, "G-O-O-D-B-Y-E" floats off into inconsequentiality. If you're looking for more than just background pleasantness, you might be inclined to dislike what you're hearing.
As a result, track 3, "Blink," which is garage rock in an early-Bangles vein, will either make you think Radigan is back on track or leave you unconvinced. Either way, your criterion for judging would be off. My domestic partner quickly picked up on this salient point about Radigan: you can't fairly judge any one track by any other. Each one sounds like its own entity. In this way, the CD resembles pre-Beatles pop-rock albums, which were generally collections of singles or singles padded to full-length. They weren't crafted as flowing artistic statements.
As an experiment, I've spent days listening to Radigan on shuffle mode. I've yet to hit a sequence that worked better than the existing one. Each new configuration does different things, but the tracks never build on one another or fall into a wholly satisfying sequence, a "story" with an arc. As a result, I've revised my longstanding opinion that the existing sequence isn't ideal. It's the best one I've experienced. No matter how you order these tracks, the result seems stylistically schizophrenic. Accept that, and you can enjoy each style. Think of the songs as potential singles and Radigan as a compilation, a greatest nonhits. Or, since the artistic entity known as an album may be on its way out, think of Radigan as a one-woman streaming service.
The CD was Terry Radigan's only release on Vanguard Records. If you know Vanguard, you probably associate it with '60's folk and folk-rock. Somehow Radigan ended up as one of the label's new artists, along with John Hiatt. She coproduced this recording with Kenny Greenberg (who has produced records by, among others, Joan Baez, Allison Moorer, Pam Tillis, The Mavericks, and his wife, Ashley Cleveland) and Justin Niebank (whose other production credits include Marty Stuart, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, LeAnn Rimes, and Sheryl Crow).
None of these credits or credentials really give you a sense of Radigan. It doesn't sound like folk, folk-rock, country, or even alt-country. In addition to trip-hop and the early Bangles, you might find yourself thinking about Nancy Sinatra ("The Things You'll Do"), Sade ("So What"), the Beatles ("Happiness"), the Replacements at their catchiest ("When I Get Around You"), Dire Straits ("When It Comes to You," written by Mark Knopfler), and various James Bond themes ("Everything Starts Out Small").
These threads come together in "Love Wouldn't Lie to Me," a Radigan cowrite that Trisha Yearwood recorded in 1998. The lyrics are a simple lament for lost love, as the singer ponders being alone and putting on "a real good show" around other people. There's no escaping the reality that the relationship's "gone gone gone," but the twist comes in the chorus, where the betrayer is the feeling itself:
Love shouldn't lie to meRadigan delivers the verses in her lower register, matter-of-factly. Her voice rises in each line of the chorus's delicious melody, and the simple backing lets the ache linger in the air.
Love couldn't lie to me
Love wouldn't lie to me but it did
In fact, the overall effect of the album is the sense of shimmering. Don't expect to be wowed by dynamics, because the songs and their delivery are subtler than that. Still, you know how an album might have one or two songs you just sink into? This album is full of them--one after another. If sinking into shimmering sounds like your idea of a good time, have I got the CD for you. Well, have I?
Get past track 2, or understand that it doesn't represent the whole, and ignore the CD's title. Seriously, Radigan by Terry Radigan is an opportunity lost. It makes Radigan sound tough and like her own person (possibly conjuring the 1968 crime film Madigan), but it tells you nothing about the music. Pretend the title is 50 Kisses. With the possible exception of that Amazon Customer, who could resist that prospect?
Also see Terry Radigan's homepage
And see Kurt Wildermuth's homepage
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|