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Sometimes good things take time, but eventually talent rises to the top. Such is the case with downtown cabaret songbird Carol Lipnik, who has just released her sixth CD, Almost Back to Normal, and is enjoying a weekly residency at swanky Pangea on Second Avenue, near 11th Street. Let Carol regale you every Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.
I had the pleasure of catching Lipnik's act a few weeks ago and I can say with some certainty that I have never seen or heard anyone quite like her. When she moves to the stage in her flowing, black, layered dress, combined with her midnight blue fingernails and softly falling red tresses, there is an aura of Stevie Nicks. However, when she begins to sing, her four-octave range can go from bluesy alto to folky soprano to operatic trills. The program contains mostly her own songs, but also work by Kurt Weill, David Byrne, Tom Ward, and her pianist Matt Kanelos, among others.
A bit of a mockingbird
"I think I'm a bit of a mockingbird," Lipnik told me. "I can imitate any sound I hear."
Lipnik started out as a painter (she attended Pratt Institute), and that's how she approaches her music. "I have a palette of different sounds. I'm lucky that I have such a versatile voice," she said. "I can sound sweet like Judy Collins or raspy like Screamin' Jay Hawkins. It depends on the painting of the song."
Lipnik was born and raised on Coney Island. "I was fascinated by the decay and desolation, it kind of shaped my aesthetic," she recalled. "There used to be the Astro Tower, which didn't survive Hurricane Sandy, and it had a hole in the top. When the wind would blow, there was a spooky sound, kind of a whistling or howling. That's just one example of the beautiful desolation."
Although Lipnik's music is often haunting and serious, her humor is always within easy reach. At one point in the show, she was doing some vocal dips and trills and then winked to the audience and said, "That's jazz!" Laughs erupted.
"There is a duality present in every moment, and a release in both joy and sadness," she explained. "Light and darkness live together and I want to express that."
Of course, her visual arts background plays a part in the performance as well. "When I started singing, I was accompanying myself on guitar, and it was very limiting," she said. "I was so afraid of making a mistake with the chord. My goal now is to disappear into the song, and so I sing with my whole body. Movement is part of the sound in a way."
As for the latest recording (gorgeous, by the way), the title song came about in an odd way. "I had minor surgery for a torn meniscus in my knee. I was recovering, and a friend asked how I was doing. I said, 'Almost back to normal.' He said that was a great song title, so I eventually wrote it myself!"
"I have never aspired to be normal by any stretch of the imagination," Lipnik said. "You can be tyrannized by what the notion of normal is. But when you're healing and thinking of your pain, suddenly normal is a beautiful thing."
Lipnik noted that today's world is filled with uncertainty, and so the culture is anxious. "I think of the songs on the CD as shields or talismans to take to battle," she said.
Over the length of her Pangea residency, which has already been going for months and will continue through the end of the year (at least), Lipnik has welcomed such noteworthy guests as Joey Arias and Justin Vivian Bond, among many others. "I've inadvertently become the center of this alternative cabaret art scene!" she marveled. "Steven and Arnoldo at Pangea have been so supportive. It's such a pleasure to be doing what I'm doing in that environment. This is the way New York is supposed to be."
Carol Lipnik, growing a following after her years of hard work. She is a treasure among us. Catch her on Sundays (7:30) at Pangea in the East Village...
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