Lisa Mednick Powell

old review

I just came across this review from No Depression of the Two Headed Dog release "Better Than One." Most of what was once a towering wall of cassette tapes has been relinquished to the dustbin now, casualties of a dying format and a cross-country move. Only a few remain, boxed up in the back of the CD room, rarely touched yet priceless in their own way -- a handful of cassettes containing music not documented anywhere else, memories that were simply too meaningful to be left behind. The songs on this disc are on one of those tapes. Lisa Mednick, who wrote them, passed along a demo of recordings she'd made with her friend Alison Young in New Orleans shortly after she moved in 1990 to Austin, where I lived at the time. They called themselves Two-Headed Dog, essentially a spinoff of a larger band they'd both been involved with called the Song Dogs. None of it ever got released, but by the time I left Austin in '91, I'd worn the tape out, and had seen Mednick perform many of its songs in a subsequent duo, Ship Of Fools (with Bill Conley). One of them, "Harper's Ferry", eventually surfaced on Mednick's 1994 solo debut Artifacts Of Love. Though that version (which also featured Young on harmony vocals) sported an exquisite latticework of strings from producer Greg Leisz, my mind always drifted back to the demo, which somehow cut closer and deeper with only Mednick's plaintive piano to echo the voices steeped in longing and regret. Listening anew more than a decade later only confirms that instinct. Other songs conjure different moods. "Border Town" and "Gunslinger's Sun" might be called southwestern noir, while "With A Dollar In Your Hand" is a classic, picture-perfect old-time waltz. The constant thread throughout is the smart, sharp character of Mednick's lyrics. Though she's known primarily as a supporting player -- having toured as a keyboardist for the likes of Juliana Hatfield and the Chills -- there's no denying the strength of the songwriting here. Her phrases evoke and intrigue, convey romance without resorting to sentimentality, and effortlessly mesh the personal with the political. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the disc's best track, "In Love With You", which is something entirely different than what its title would indicate -- sort of. Accompanied by piano and violin, Young gives voice to all the embattled passion bottled up in Mednick's words: "You think of war as something far away/Fought in glory on some foreign sand/Well we've got plenty trouble and it starts right here/It screams from my soul and whispers into your ear." No surprise that apparently I wasn't the only one who held on to that tape for all these years.