monoblogue music: “(A)live from the Scrapheap” by Christina Rubino

I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps slating this review for Easter weekend was most appropriate for the March release from Christina Rubino called “(A)live from the Scrapheap.” A decade ago, Rubino was an up-and-coming player in the New York music scene, working on several projects and eventually finding her way into an all-female Depeche Mode cover band called Violator.

But after a few years of touring and ongoing substance abuse, Rubino backed away from the scene five years ago, and the healing process continues with this barebones, mainly acoustic production.

Listening to the first two songs, The Gateway and Pending the Lost Soul, one may think the album will go off in a folk/bluegrass direction, one which is rather upbeat. But that hopeful feeling disappears and the scars become visible in the next track, Nothing to Gain.

On that track and on the next one, Little Bee in D, Rubino ponders her fall, lamenting at the end of Little Bee that “everything turned gray.” The bleak, relatively stark feeling of emptiness expressed by the album’s cover seems to fit these middle tracks. But if not for these setbacks and tribulations, Rubino sings in Tidal, “I’d have nothing to sing about.”

Redemption begins on track 6, Aria Divina, where she pleads, “God show me where I’m going, and who I should be. Please light the path I’m walking, and help me walk humbly.” It’s not the smoothest path, as Seems and Waiting To Break testify – in the latter, Christina wails, “every time I flip a coin it lands on tails.” But the next two tracks, Stix n’ Stones and Breakout, return to more complex and upbeat instrumentation. Even the finale, Billy’s Song, while it talks about loss, does so in a hopeful way.

Generally recorded with only two or three instruments, “(A)live from the Scrapheap” takes advantage of her collaboration with producer Jerry Farley (who also plays on the album), guitarist Matt Brown, and backing vocals from longtime friend Francine Bianco, who previously teamed with Rubino as a folk duo called Ruby and White.

Yet in this case the music is simply a backdrop, a vehicle for catharsis. While the 11 tracks run a little bit over 44 minutes, they’re the result of what may have been a lost half-decade or so in Rubino’s life. If there’s one thing I took away from listening to this album, it’s that she’s a survivor. Granted, that’s not the most unique of instances, as thousands upon thousands of artists and musicians over the decades have struggled with inner demons for which they found release via addiction to various substances, and many of them didn’t make it back. Christina cites Janis Joplin as her original inspiration, and Joplin was one of those tragedies who died at a very young age.

Rubino, however, is on the road back and the message of redemption is a good one to remember on this weekend.

As I alluded to before, Rubino has toured in the past with various bands but most recently has stuck close by her New York base. It’s not to say she may not try and back her album if it does well – I could easily see her taking the show on the road as she writes additional material. She may not look the part of a vulnerable musician given her tattoos and overall appearance, but she sure sings it.

I’ll cheerfully admit that her style of music isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was obvious to me that Rubino has poured her heart and soul into this one, perhaps more so than most. As I always say, listen for yourself and see if you agree.