“The Bad and the Beautiful” by Diane Gentile

Few modern singer/songwriters are as representative of how influences shape artists in disparate ways than Diane Gentile.

Her new album The Bad and the Beautiful owes a lot of debts. David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Lucinda Williams, and even legendary Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen have played pivotal roles in Gentile’s artistic development. Her years as a resident of New York City have likewise exposed her to the metropolis’ punk rock scene and it has a pronounced effect on her work. The Bad and the Beautiful’s songs, however, transmute those varying voices through her consciousness and experiences to produce something singular, all her own. It arguably stands as one of 2023’s best releases – from anyone.

There’s a great deal of thought behind these songs, but they never sound overcooked. “Lace Up Your Sneakers” is an especially clever song to open the album with, it does send us a message, but hearing her songwriting tethered to commonplace realities for us all, is the first of a handful of revelations on this album. Her perspective is far more steadfastly human than most – meaning she sees beyond the superficial of our day-to-day lives and reveals the greater, if almost always hidden, meaning behind our lives. Delivering such a point of view with her emotive voice caps off a strong opening track.

Her duet with Alejandro Escovedo on “Walk with Me” is an obvious contender for a single release. The two singers pair their voices extremely well with one another. Gentile’s words for this specific track are among her best writing for The Bad and the Beautiful. She conjures up a focused portrait of the song’s central character with a mix of well-chosen generalities and concrete details adding up to a vivid characterization.

“Shimmy” hints at a different trajectory in its opening seconds, perhaps a salvo of R&B/funk spiked goodness before Gentile and the Gentle Men launch us in another direction. It’s a rollicking and churning piece of alternative rock that moves rather than merely thrashing away. “Sugarcane”, on the other hand, goes in an entirely different direction. This is an atmospheric show-stopper that depends on a tasteful amount of effect-laden instrumental additions for its ultimate success. The indisputable center of the song is, however, Gentile’s impassioned yet never stagy vocal.

The penultimate track whips up a late dose of surprise. “Be There” is a 180-degree turn into acoustic blues and Gentile finds firm footing in the style. She conveys ample emotion throughout the well-written lyrics and the only negative about the performance, albeit a small one, is the self-conscious retro affectations she’s saddled the song with. It speaks for itself, there’s no need for additional tinsel.

“Kiss the Sky” ends the album in grand fashion. Piano is one of the album’s underrated instruments and it plays an important role in the development of this track. Diane Gentile concludes the album unleashing her best “big screen” vocal while managing to convey the same wealth of emotion defining her previous performances. Diane Gentile’s The Bad and the Beautiful is a formidable release from the first song through the last.

Rachel Townsend

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