What Would Bootsy Say?
Lili Haydn’s resume is impressive: she was a child actor; she graduated from Brown University; and she’s blogged for The Huffington Post. Haydn also plays the violin, well enough that she’s performed with artists as diverse as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Porno for Pyros. So it should come as no surprise that Place Between Places, her third full-length album, manifests brains, talent, and ambition.
Fans of grandiloquent rock will find much to like. Haydn’s violin playing provides “Can’t Give Everything” with feedback at the beginning, a stentorian solo in the middle, and a pensive coda. On “Satellites,” the strings swell and the cymbals splash as she sings the chorus, “And we are satellites / in so much darkness. / It hurts when we collide.” Meanwhile, “Strawberry Street,” a bona fide single, aims for the charts with a big beat, catchy pizzicato and a swelling chorus about the warm glow of being in love.
Haydn is most interesting when she ventures beyond her classical leanings. On the title track, Itai Disraeli’s funky bass inspires a Middle-Eastern tone from her playing, and the mournful, Asian tone on “Saddest Sunset” is genuinely beautiful.
On the other hand, Haydn’s good intentions sink her elsewhere. In “Children of Babylon,” a lament about the destructive consequences of violence, she sings, “Oh, if the sound of violins could only stop the violence, / I’d play it for you now,” after which she proceeds to play her violin. Her cover of “Maggot Brain” is also emblematic of the problem. Haydn gives it the symphonic treatment with the help of the daKah Hip Hop Orchestra, but the song doesn’t need to be “classed up.” The original version was a squall of woozy, psychedelic blues conceived by funkateer George Clinton and blasted through Marshall amps by Eddie Hazel. Clinton, one of Haydn’s many music-biz employers, supposedly calls her the “Hendrix of the violin,” but that only seems to slight Hazel, who died of hard living at the young age of 42.
If covering “Maggot Brain” appears schizophrenic, that’s because it’s essentially at odds with the Bono-esque superego dominating the record. Place Between Places demonstrates that Haydn has chops; it also reveals that she has yet to find her own voice.