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Recent Press

The Big Takeover

Berkeley, CA-based folkie Lowe first began playing the NYC/Boston coffeehouse circuit in college, before heading to Denver to get a doctorate in clinical psychology. But she never stopped making music, and this is now her fifth album, following 2008’s strangely-titled Eep. As on her 2004 third LP 57 Suspect Words, she’s backed by her band Bug Eyed Sprite (bassist Ben Freelove, guitarist Myles Boisen, and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Kent Sparling). They provide buoyant and mellifluous shading, perfect for her loosely-structured, stream-of-consciousness style of writing.

And though her pretty songs and soothing voice go down easy, like a cup of herbal tea on a Spring morning, her introspective, allegorical lyrics often dig deeper. For instance, on the sighing “Caption” she ponders a life or relationship gone amiss: “Oh the hands of the clock held us safe in our lives/Time is short and the hoarding of words is a crime/Oh the world is a wild place to grow wise.” Her words are dreamlike and open to interpretation, often invoking nature imagery like restless rivers and starlit skies to represent contrasting feelings like indecision and hopefulness. And having been to the tiny seaside town of Pescadero, CA myself, I’d imagine that its remote beach likely referenced in the LP’s title would be a prime location for ocean/star-gazing, and probably an inspiration for Lowe’s vivid, searching music.

- Mark Suppanz, The Big Takeover, 2 April 2013

Local Licks

A girly, crystalline voice and a knack for inventive phrasing will undoubtedly propel the career of folk singer Vanessa Lowe. Not to mention she has a tight band to bolster her, with Myles Boisen handling the guitar parts, Kent Sparling on percussion, Ben Freelove on bass, and a variety of guests. Her arrangements feature melodica, reed organ, auto harp, well-crafted string arrangements, and "atmospherics."

- Rachel Swan, East Bay Express, August 29, 2012

Acoustic Guitar

Vanessa Lowe’s odd—and oddly titled—fourth album explores dark, minor-key prickly music, with emphasis not on melodies but on the singer-songwriter’s cleverly imagistic lyrics and airy, layered vocals. Lowe's band, Bug Eyed Sprite—nothing cutesy about it except its name—creates a rich atmospheric web of sound in a highly polished production: Ben Freelove on bass, Toby Hawkins on drums, Myles Boisen on electric and slide guitars, and producer Kent Sparling on assorted other instruments (melodica, keyboards). Unlike many singer-songwriters, whose guitar is wielded to mostly rhythmic effect, Lowe displays artistry on resonator and acoustic guitars alike. She uses single-note plucking, delicate fingerpicking, and dronelike strums to ratchet up the impact of her music, such as the gorgeous “Goodbye,” the only instrumental among the 14 original songs. Although there’s a slight sameness to some of the material, most often a truly unique spirit and sensibility shine through.

- Celine Keating, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, #203, November 2009

Collected Sounds

I have reviewed Vanessa Lowe’s music in the past and I’ve quite enjoyed it.  I’ve always liked her style in that she writes clever lyrics and fun rhythms.  More than I few times I’ve described her music as dirgy. This release is no exception.  “Bug” has a cool melody and she plays with the rhythm and does some strange/cool vocalizations.  “Happy for You” is one that’s caught my attention a few times.  It has a strange rhythm that you can’t help getting drawn to.  “Listen Closely” makes nice use of the minor keys.  Love this melody!  She’s kind of like Ani DiFranco at her darkest.  Another great album by a very talented artist.

- Amy Lotsberg, Collected Sounds, January 4, 2009

Local Licks

Eeep is far from the first thing that comes to mind when listening to Lowe’s fourth album. More like ahhh.  Her brand of dream-pop-meets-indie-folk lacks energy, but sounds just right for those moments that demand reflection and relaxation.  Still, it’s not vacant chill-out music; Lowe’s songs are fully-fledged and lyrically deep.

- Nate Seltenrich, East Bay Express, November 5-11, 2008

Past Press

Concert Preview: Lowe keeps the music smart

Like the rest of us, Vanessa Lowe has a left brain and a right brain. The left side enabled her to get through Brandeis University and the University of Denver, escaping with a doctorate in clinical psychology.

But through all that schooling, she also kept her right brain in shape by writing and singing songs. And now she definitely favors a right-brain approach to "explaining the mysteries of life and human behavior," as her autobiography puts it.

Psychology offered a framework through which to view human behavior, she says, "but psychology can be sort of rigid, and there are other ways that feel more magical and mystical, less categorical. I'm allowing myself to use my intuition."

For a long time, Lowe poked around in the mysteries as an acoustic singer-songwriter. But the third time out she has definitely plugged in, and her fine new album, "57 Suspect Words," more clearly reveals some quirky cerebral circuitry.

Lowe cheerfully admits that some of her songs are "a little obtuse," but she's not apologizing.

"I appreciate Lucinda Williams and others who are more direct," she said in a telephone interview last week, "but I also like to hear other people's interpretations of my songs. They're often different than mine, but they're just as valid, just as real."

Lowe says she follows her stream-of-consciousness wherever it carries her, and frequently figures out the meaning midway through the process of putting words and music together.

Even though she started out primarily as an acoustic performer, sometimes solo and sometimes with violin and percussion, she says, "The music I like and listen to always has a lot going on."

Citing Soul Coughing and Solex (Elisabeth Esselink) as influences, she says "I've always liked weird, chopped-up sound." And now she has her own, thanks to her collaboration with Kent Sparling, an experimental composer and sound-tinkerer who produced her two acoustic albums, "House of Sin" and "Barnacles of Joy."

Sparling brought a lot of his ideas into her musical life, she says, and so did electric bassist Ben Freelove.

"I had to develop my confidence before I could do this," she says. "I lucked into working with people who are really creative and enjoy collaboration.

"I'm now much more comfortable letting other people bring in their own ideas. I'm just lucky."

Their collaboration has borne good fruit in "57 Suspect Words," which deftly uses all sorts of electric and electronic devices along with uncommon instruments such as the melodica, theremin, ukelele, lap steel guitar and djembe. The sounds make each song feel right, both aurally and rhythmically.

Lowe also adjusts her low, supple voice and style and phrasing to fit each song. On some tracks, you can almost see a sly grin or quick wink as she sings.

This is exactly what it's billed as: "intelligent pop." These catchy, engaging songs will dance you wistfully, whimsically and thoughtfully into what Lowe's publicity describes as "odd and unlikely perspec- tives."

If "Darwinian Darts" makes you uneasy with its instruction to, "Stand very straight, hold very still/ The aim is to maim, not to kill," you'll find the antidote in "Your Worried Mind," which urges you to, "Open desire like a web and be a net/ Here comes a windfall of devices/ to quiet your worried mind."

Or you might prefer some calming Zen counsel about nonattachment, to be found in "Thin Window."

If you've been in love, or felt love sneaking up on you, or have been in sometimes rocky relationship, burn yourself a CD with these four tracks: "Sandy Water," "Steady in the Draft," "Carry Me Home" and "Love on Your Arm."

If you enjoy being mildly baffled (although not toyed with), try the fascinating thought fragments of "Sounds Like" or the you-can-almost-touch-it imagery of "Growing a Word," "Whistling" or "The Tells."

The album was recorded at Guerilla Studios in Oakland, Calif. It was mixed at Skywalker Sound in Marin County by Kent Sparling, who has worked as a sound designer and re-recording mixer for such films as "Lost in Translation" and "Adaptation."

Sparling is one half of Lowe's band, Bug Eyed Sprite. He will be with her for her Cafe Paradiso show tonight, but bassist Freelove is staying home in California to earn money for a plane he's buying.

Based in Berkeley, Calif., the group is on an up-north mini-tour that also includes gigs at the Bitter End in Portland, AJ's in Corvallis and the Humboldt Brewery in Arcata, Calif.

The group used to be called Vanessa Lowe and the Lowlifes, but none of the members liked that name. Lowe says they were riding in a car one day, "riffing on different names," when someone came up with Bug Eyed Sprite, a once-popular type of Austin Healey sports car.

The name stuck. To her, the name conjures up "a hypothyroid fairy."

Lowe obviously has a fondness for unusual names. She records for an independent label called the Jicama Salad Company, and once even sold an album online to a woman who was browsing the Web for recipes.

And Bug Eyed Sprite is three quarters of the way through a new album that will be titled "e.e.p." And that means?

Lowe says it could be an acronym for "exit entry point," but she prefers to think of it as a sound that might be made "by a bug hanging from the wing of an airplane."

"57 Suspect Words," she says, "feels like I went around my backyard digging little holes and then sticking my head in there for a while. There are songs about trying to experience silence, being scared of the life of words, hearing messages in the songs of night frogs.

"The next record is going to be all from the air. This one was fun, but the holes fill with rain, and then you have to look up or you drown."

- Paul Denison, The Register-Guard , Eugene, OR, July 23, 2004

"57 Suspect Words" sees Vanessa Lowe coming into her own as a songwriter and performer. Following her already impressive debut, "Barnacles of Joy", Lowe had expectations raised high, and it's nice to see her not only living up to the promise of her debut, but surpassing it. "57 Suspect Words" is strong and confident, with eloquent songwriting delivered in a subtle but certain manner. As a songwriter, she's infinitely more solid and confident than on her first album. This recording shows her versatility and sense of quiet inventiveness; it's brimming with lovely melodies and compassionate songwriting.

The song arrangements help raise this miles above your regular singer-songwriter album. Lowe's co-musicians (The Bug Eyed Sprite, including former Counting Crows drummer Toby Hawkins) sound like a real band rather than a mere backing group for Lowe; not surprising, perhaps, considering their long touring experiences together. From the funky folk of "Darwinian Darts" to the jammy "Ashes From…," from the stoked "Your Worried Mind" to the lovely "The Tells," Lowe has crafted a sophomore album with enough versatility to maintain interest throughout. Her music recalls, at various points, Joni Mitchell, Ani Di Franco, Modest Mouse and all points in-between.

It's not all equally good, though. A couple of the meditative tracks on the album's latter half fall a bit short of what's come before. But for the most part, Lowe proves herself capable of expressing her sentiments in a profound, intimate manner, while still maintaining her focus on writing a good, strong and captivating tune.

- Stein Haukland, Ink19, June 2004


Former No Ripcord regular Peter Mattinson makes an apparent one-off return with this feature on California-based singer/songwriter Vanessa Lowe, whose new album "57 Suspect Words" seems to have actually cheered him up. Cheers, Vanessa. - David Coleman, Editor No Ripcord

Vanessa Lowe: 57 Suspect Words

Review & Interview By Peter Mattinson

It doesn’t seem it now, but a year ago I was wandering round the streets of Manchester getting soaked by the rain on a regular basis, with no money in my pocket to buy a coffee/shelter in a passing café. Such is life. At the time though, my headphones were filled by an album I'd received from a (then) unknown to me singer called Vanessa Lowe.

I liked it, it cheered me up a little. Maybe I’ve always had a soft spot for women playing acoustic guitars, but that’s what you get when your first gig was Suzanne Vega. Twelve odd months on, I’m still pretty much doing the same thing, albeit with a different haircut, and a new Vanessa Lowe album has fell through my letterbox and it got me thinking about too many things I shouldn't waste my time on, but do anyway because perhaps that's what happens when you listen to music made by Clinical Psychology graduates.

What I wrote back then about "Barnacles Of Joy" (the aforementioned last album) I can't quite remember, but around 30 seconds into "57 Suspect Words" (out now on Jicama Salad Co.), it feels like familiar ground: seductive vocals wrap around acoustic guitars, yet there's something different in here somewhere (could it be those bubbling electronic noises placed quietly in the background?) and the feeling continues until "Your Worried Mind" when it climbs, climbs until you find yourself almost physically wishing it to hit that peak that so few songs meet. And it does, and it makes you glow seeing that musicians can go forward and not just make the same record time after time.

Lowe has evidently taken several steps forward between albums - the sparse acoustic arrangements of previous work are still here, but now backed with all sorts of instrumentation that adds a certain darkness to all of this. "Darwinian Darts" (mid-year contender for most interesting title of the year) credits ‘Electric Guitar drills and roars’, which I’m convinced may well be a first on any album sleeve that I know of.

All that said, "Carry Me Home" is pretty much stripped to its bones which could have put it out of place on an album such as this. Then you hear what appears to be it’s sweet romanticism and let your heart be warmed but wonder what she can mean with the line ‘only hints at what’s underneath’. Draw your own conclusions, it’s one of the beautiful things about art.

So, it’s not quite as rock and roll as some may like. But I don’t care because I like it very much. There’s nothing present that you’ll hear on the radio to work, which doesn’t really matter as it’s wonderfully different in it’s own little way and listening to it makes tramping those (now sweltering) streets a little easier. For when she sings ‘Goodbye my suffering, I’m thanking you for what you’ve been’ I feel my heart buzz and we all need moments like that.



Where has the change in sound over the last year came from?

“When I recorded Barnacles of Joy I did not have Bug Eyed Sprite, my full band. I had been playing with a violinist and a drummer. The drummer, Toby Hawkins, is still playing with me – he doesn’t use a full kit, but rather a snare and metal pieces made by an artist, and random other objects and small drums, sometimes a floor tom. Ben Freelove is playing bass, and he’s simply great. Kent Sparling plays ‘tiny instruments’ in the band – an old little Casio synthesizer through lots of Boss effects, ukulele, melodica, slide whistle. He only wanted to join the band if he could carry everything he needed in a suitcase. He uses a little vintage Fender vibro-champ amp. He’s very compact, and secure enough to withstand the “tiny” thing.

So, with 57 Suspect Words, it’s really a record of the whole band and this great point in our playing together. Like the last record was about what I had been doing solo. Also, Kent is a composer of experimental music and he does sound for film. He uses old analogue synthesizers called Serge Modules, which he built a long time ago. He blended a lot of processed sounds into the record in a very atmospheric way. Roger Linn played theremin on one song, just for kicks. He invented the Linn Drum Machine, so it was really fun to ask him to do something entirely different. Finally, we recorded and mastered the record with Myles Boisen at Guerilla Recording. In addition to being a gifted engineer, he is an amazing experimental jazz guitarist – he played on one of Tom Waits’ last records, plays with Mark Growden, Splatter Trio, Whore, and also composes amazing stuff himself. So he added a bunch of beautifully weird electric guitar to the record. He’s played with us live a few times, too.”

Is being on an Independent label important to you, and does it affect the way you go about making your music?

“Being indie is important to me – the label is our own, so we’re extremely indie. What matters to me is having total artistic control. No one is telling us to do things different for the wrong reasons. I can’t really imagine being at a major label and being told to write a certain way, or look a particular way. Being independent is synonymous with having integrity for me. That said, it’s also synonymous with lots of expenses and lots and lots of work. I would be very interested in working with a larger, well-established independent label for licensing and distribution of my records. We don’t have the resources that a larger indie has with regard to tour booking and promotion.”

Does your doctorate in clinical psychology have any bearing on your songwriting?

“Absolutely. I’m very interested in the minutiae of human experience and interaction, whether that’s with other humans, other living things, or objects in the world. I like to isolate a tiny aspect of a feeling or experience and magnify it into a whole world in a song.”

Given it's only been 12 months between albums, can we expect more summer 2005?

“Why, yes. We’re immersed in recording the next record, tentatively entitled, ‘eep’. We have 19 songs to choose from. It’s a very similar vibe to 57 Suspect Words, only that record was a lot about stuff underground, and eep seems to have a lot of perspective from way up above. I got a little claustrophobic with all the intensely digging songs, so I started flying around a bit. About half of the songs on eep were recorded with songs on Suspect Words. I’ve just emerged from a dry spell of about 6 months – I wrote three songs this week. They’re really different, so I’m excited about the next record after eep. I might want to try recording it largely on my own for a change. I have Protools which I can run on my laptop with an Mbox. We’ll see – I’m not very detail-oriented.”

If there's 57 Suspect Words, name one.


- Peter Mattinson, No Ripcord, May 2004

In March of 2003 I reviewed Vanessa Lowe’s second CD, “Barnacles of Joy” and liked it very much.  This recording ("57 Suspect Words") starts out strong with “Sounds Like” which has a solid beat that’s a tad funky.  It almost has a 60s rock feel.  Her voice is similar to Lisa Loeb’s but her overall sound is really all her own. Her fabulous way with words is back and strong as ever.  This is really strong intelligent pop music. The songs seep into your psyche and you don’t even realize it until you put the CD in again and realize you know the songs. Spooky and wonderful.  “Darwinian Darts” is a certain stand out for me.  The concept caught my attention and won’t let go.  It helps that the song is just really catchy and sticks in your brain.

“So let’s play Darwinian Darts / Stand very straight and hold very still

The goal is to maim, not to kill / So let’s play Darwinian Darts”

Other standouts are “Steady in the Draft” with its kind of dirge-y sound and nice bass line and “The Tells” for its picture-painting lyrics.  Really all the songs are great.  This is a fantastic recording and I hope it gives Vanessa Lowe the attention she so well deserves.  When I get CDs like “57 Suspect Words” (and I don’t that often) it reminds me why I do this.

- Amy Lotsberg, Collected Sounds, March 24, 2004

Lowe Reveals Her Dark Side With New Song Set

Now that she has a doctorate in clinical psychology, perhaps it's not too surprising to find Berkeley singer-songwriter Vanessa Lowe describe her new album as "deeper" and "creepier" than her earlier efforts.

Produced by her husband and musical collaborator Kent Sparling, "57 Suspect Words," recorded at Guerrilla studios in Oakland and mixed at Skywalker Sound, the album will be showcased at a release party and concert Thursday at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage.

Handling guitar and vocals, Lowe will be backed by her band, Bug Eyed Sprite, featuring Sparling on "tiny" instruments, Toby Hawkins on percussion, Ben Freelove on bass. Special guest Myles Boisen (Splatter Trio) will add avant-garde guitar licks. The CD also includes melodica, ukulele and lap steel, as well as spine-tingling theremin passages by Roger Linn.

At the Freight, Lowe will also perform even more recent compositions and favorites from her previous acclaimed CD, "Barnacles of Joy."

Lowe recorded her first CD, "Her House of Sin," in 1999, while attending graduate school in Denver. She had made her mark on the coffee-house scene there. "Those songs were sweeter than the rather stranger ones on the new record," Lowe says. "This one is creepier, in a good way. It goes deeper. It's much less literal. It delves more into unpleasant emotions. ... It's kind of a mixture of psychology and abstract art. The songs are all based on experiences I had or on experiences I observed other people having. But the songs are about conveying the mood, rather than necessarily the specific things that happened."

The album's title "57 Suspect Words" came from a song that never got finished, but also reflects Lowe's acute sensitivity to words and meanings in general.

"In relationships with people, I'll pick up on specific words, and there's a lot of meaning in them for me," she says. "That's probably partly my psychological background. I like words that express as much as possible. Words have a lot of power. Kent says I'm a terrier -- I'll grab onto a word and dissect it."

But the word discoveries Lowe makes are hers alone; while writing songs, she has no inclination of what the listener might think. "Every once in a while, something trite will come out and I'll have a moment of embarrassment, imagining somebody hearing it," she says. "But usually it is totally an internal process that's happening. Despite that, people seem to know what the songs are about, or they find their own meaning."

Growing up in New York. Lowe began guitar lessons at age 8 and started writing songs at 17. "I heard Suzanne Vega when I was 17 and something clicked on in my brain. The songs just poured out," she says.

But even as her music developed, Lowe continued her psychology studies. "In my family, there's a lot of professional people, and it's expected that you would have something to fall back on," she says.

Studying psychology proved to be beneficial to writing. "It allowed me to go deeply into uncomfortable emotions and experiencing that with people. There's definitely a lot of fodder for songwriting in all that stuff. On this record, there are so many songs that are deeply psychological. There are songs about sitting through uncomfortable silence, songs about acceptance and non-acceptance -- not necessarily on the surface, but in the layers. Writing is ultimately therapeutic, the No. 1 release for me."

Lowe moved from New York to Boston, then Colorado. At a wedding there, she met Sparling and six months later, moved to Point Reyes to be with him. The next year, they relocated to Berkeley, and Lowe immersed herself in the Bay Area music scene.

"It's much more experimental than Boston or Denver," she says. "A lot of the hip-hop that's happening here is really exciting. And all the weird stuff. There's people like Carla Kihlstedt, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum -- all this really cool, alternative meshing of jazz and pop and folk. I like all the different influences that people are not scared to combine."

- Paul Freeman, Contra Costa Times, January 30, 2004

On Barnacles of Joy

I'm a word guy. The lyrics can make or break an album for me. Which is why I like one of these albums so much more than the other. Both a mostly folk based songs; both are strong and interesting musically. But only one has lyrics that really catch my imagination

Vanessa Lowe is by far the stronger lyricist of the two. Her great strength is metaphor. Metaphor allows a song to say much more than what's on its surface. Lowe's song "I Am" goes:

the land was ablaze where i pointed / i was to learn what it is to be color // the sky turned to red when i passed it //i was to learn what it is to be morning // i'm never gonna cry again / i'm never gonna say /i want to be more than i am

And in "Morsel" she sings:

i've got a filet / i've got the bologna / i've got your sweet face / but it doesn't own me / do you know where hunger ends? // i'm sorry i play these games / storing morsels of energy / i'm sorry it's not to your taste /you can write it in my eulogy

In both of these songs it is possible to say what the song is "about". But it takes some thought and interpretation to get there. Even more important, it is still only an interpretation; there are still more possible meanings in the lyrics.

Dulcie Taylor, on the other hand, tells you exactly what she is singing about. There is no question what her songs are about, or other possible interpretations. She writes lyrics like:

I used to wonder when I was growing / Why does a married couple part? / Why don't they just sit down together, / Work it out, and make a new start. // I have a ring Daddy gave Momma / Back when their love was brand new /I have a ring Daddy gave Momma / As a promise to love her true.

Even when she does incorporate metaphor, it is of the most basic and cliched manner, such as in the title song, "Love can cut like a diamond/ Love can shatter like glass." That seems to be limits of her poetic imagination.

Of course, sometimes plain statements can work. The best cut on "Diamonds and Glass" is "Easy for You", which describes, in a straightforward yet resonant manner, one of the heartaches of a breakup: "I don't blame you baby/ For what you have to do/ It just seems so/ Easy for you."

Both Lowe and Taylor use basic folk forms for their songs. But as with her lyrics, Lowe is the more adventurous musician. She employs offbeat percussion on many songs, and incorporates some very interesting instrumentation, especially an accordion like melodica on many songs. Taylor uses a much more straightforward acoustic guitar format, augmented by occasional horns. She does create some very nice melodies for her songs, and incorporates many clever instrumental touches.

These two albums prove that folk music is still a vibrant form, but only "Barnacles of Joy" really pushes the form forward, musically or lyrically. It shows that there is not only solid folk music being produced today, but interesting and imaginative music as well.

- G. Murray Thomas - Independent Reviews Site, July 2003, Vol 3 Issue 4

Poised somewhere between riot grrl and girly-girl stands former child psychologist turned neo-folkie Vanessa Lowe. Her second album features acoustic guitar-based songs in the Suzanne Vega tradition. Unusual sonics help add color. Among the featured instruments are dumbek, melodica, djembe, ukulele and tabla.

" My Venom Lover," "Cut Me Once" and "My Mama Told Me" emulate some of Ani Difranco's righteous anger, with a few well-chosen Phair / Morrisette four-letter words for good measure. "Wait For Me" is a fragile Joni Mitchell-esque confession of love. My favorite song is "I Am," with its slinky, polyrhythmic quality. Other tracks reveal a wide-eyed winsomeness, a la Edie Brickell.

Incidentally, the disc was mixed at Skywalker Sound, making it the best thing to come out of that place in years.

6 blips out of 10

- Matthew Christoffersen - Under the Radar, July 2003

Given the huge influx of releases from male singer/songwriters around No Ripcord Towers the last few months (and there's more to come, believe me) it makes a nice break to listen to similar work but from the opposite side of the gender coin.

"Barnacles of Joy" is Lowe's second album, she's currently based in San Francisco, which helps you understand the bizarre album title (which exactly is a Barnacle of Joy?) and armed with her acoustic guitar she's looking to carry on the traditions of Mitchell, Vega and Chapman.

She's also got a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology under her belt, which could well explain the confessional style of many of the lyrics here - samples: "I still got the scars to prove you fucked it up" - and she's not some waif type girl typically seen looking out of a bedsit window into a rainy skyline as proved by "Cut Me Once" in which we're told "you know I have methods" that "can take a man downtown."

Very much in the style of Suzanne Vega, the acoustic guitar is the main weapon of choice throughout all 14 tracks. However, sometime Counting Crows collaborator Tobias Hawkins provides all manner of bizarre methods of percussion (native drum, wood block and cardboard boxes all make an appearance) to add what I presume they call texture to the songs, whoever 'they' are.

Lowe certainly has songwriting talent in her blood; "30 Feet Deep", "Back From London" and "The Final Word" convincingly prove that. However, over 14 tracks it's occasionally spread a bit thin. A lack of variety in arrangements can make matters a little dull at times and thoughts pass whether what Lowe would sound like is she got hold of an electric guitar and really let those songs go the way some of them want to.

However, we're told this album represents the 'unplugged' chapter of her career and in much the same way Suzanne Vega later experimented with electronica to great effect, we can only hope Vanessa Lowe allows her obvious talent to take as interesting roads. 7/10

- Peter Mattinson - No Ripcord, May 14, 2003

A "Top ISWM Indie Pick for the Summer of 2003".

Independent Songwriter Web-Magazine, Summer 2003

Vanessa Lowe is not a typical confessional songwriter, who merely creates poetry out of her life and sets it to music. Her strong sense of narration prevails in her autobiographical material, and she uses her voice as a well-crafted tool to tell short stories whose protagonists are always intriguing, sometimes even amazing. How much of this can be attributed to her past life in psychology studies who can tell, though it doesn’t matter. What is most notable about Lowe’s work is the music that accompanies her storytelling. The great care she puts into her melodies, the beautifully placed moments where there is room allowed only for her voice, the guitar and another instrument (chosen from a selection of melodica, ukulele, quatro, violin, percussion and others), which come together to form a small room ensemble. Perhaps Suzanne Vega has found her heir apparent.

Translated from the Italian

- Massimiliano Zambetta - Freakout Online, April, 2003

Like the title implies, Vanessa Lowe's lyrics pack a punch. With "Red hot poker in my eye" or "I wanna bake you up and save you for a rainy day", Lowe makes you stop, listen, and contemplate. Think Joni meets Ani. Ladies, this is great music for kicking it at home and belting out the words. Her songs are fresh, chipper, and poetic. "Barnacles" is Lowe's second album, and makes ample use of the ukulele (played by Kent Sparling, who mixed the recent Spike Jonze film, 'Adaptation') and various strings in tandem with an ever-present guitar. Another Lowe album, "57 Suspect Words" is in the works, and rumor is that it's a complete departure from her exclusively acoustic, folksy past.

- Jen Dalton - SF Weekly Listen Up 2003, March 5-11, 2003

This is Vanessa's second CD, her first being 1999's "Her House of Sin". I knew I'd like this CD as soon as I saw the great CD package and the whimsical name, "Barnacles of Joy". It made me smile and so does the music. Vanessa has a gift for songwriting that is reminiscent of Aimee Mann. The songs are clever, have interesting melodies and are performed very well. I really admire her clever lyrical style. In the pretty, "Wait for Me" she sings: "You've got apples in your cheeks and berries for your lips and I want to bake you up save you for a rainy day." On "For A While" she says: "It might surprise you to know That I have been looking for you But I've got a really short attention span So if I were you I'd make your move". The English isn't perfect, but it's pure and honest, as are all the songs on this recording.

- Amy Lotsberg - Collected Sounds, March 2003

"It's no secret that there's more than enough mediocre-to-shit singer/songwriters as it is, but what's truly impressive is how much amazing talents there are out there as well, playing small clubs for the sheer joy of it, never giving up despite the odds against making it big or even being noticed by more than some small inner circle of friends.

Vanessa Lowe is not only one of the single most talented folksy singer/songwriters I've had the pleasure of hearing lately, she's also one of the luckiest -- it seems radio is already starting to pick up on her new album, and god knows she deserves it. 'Barnacles Of Joy' is, bar only a few slight missteps, a surprisingly crafted album full of eerie and uneasy but confident songs.

Lowe operates on the fringes of folk pop, with both her lyrics and her arrangements challenging the more traditional aspects of her songs -- not that she's your regular, run-of-the-mill songwriter in the first place. And while the use of djembe, tabla and other percussion are beautifully incorporated, Lowe's songs always stand apart on their own, even when they're sparsely arranged using just Lowe's guitar and her voice.

On 'Barnacles Of Joy', Lowe proves herself to be an exploring and curious songwriter, continually redefining her own sounds and songs, always refusing to stand still. This is an admirably successful and pleasing album from a truly developed songwriter and performer."

- Stein Haukland - Ink19, Dec. 2002

“A wonderful insightful sensitive work”.

- Rosalie Howarth, Host of KFOG’s Acoustic Sunrise.

"Marking Lowe's deepest venture into the world of pure acoustic instrumentation, Barnacles of Joy strikes the ears with the accidental wisdom of I Ching coins, pointing the way. Recorded in the artist's living room during breaks from touring, the album shows what happens when someone is so steeped in song, it becomes an avatar for observations they might have witnessed unawares."

- Hear Music

"As the owner of an indie record label, I hear a lot of new music. Kent Sparling's production is awesome, with perfect mixes and instrumentation. Vanessa's voice and guitar work have to be heard first hand. Soft at times like a purring kitten, then suddenly fierce like an angry lion, and every timbre in between. Since I got my copy of Barnacles Of Joy, I've played it several times a day - every day. It is both inspiring musically and very refeshing in this age of Britany Spears and 'N Sync.

- d.A.Sebasstion, Owner Go-Kustom Records.

On Her House of Sin

"Very sophisticated, beautifully recorded, and - so rare these days - she knows how to tell a compelling story in under 3 minutes! Vanessa is a very welcome addition to the Bay Area music scene".

- Rosalie Howarth, Host of KFOG's Acoustic Sunrise.

"I've listened to dozens and dozens of CD's from all kinds of genres, and there are many people out there doing good, solid work. But there has been only one CD that had the originality and spark to make me hit the play button over and over. Months later, it's still one of my most-listened to CD's. Vanessa Lowe has a unique artistic voice - her melodies are full of surprises; unexpected rhythms and chromatic turns that make your ears stand up straight, yet every shift is natural. The lyrics, too, are compelling. Personal and emotionally forthright, with images that stand out in my mind. This is a very satisfying album".

- Gunnar Madsen, Grammy-nominated co-founder of the Bobs.

"The whole disc is very accomplished. The song "When You Leave" stopped me in my tracks; it's so simple and pretty".

- Beth Holland, Host of KFOG's Local Anesthetic.

On Live Performances


For East Bay folks seeking moody, thoughtful, cinematic, and literary female folk-pop in the Noe Venable vein, here's another trip down the rabbit hole for ya: Vanessa Lowe celebrates the release of her new record "57 Suspect Words" Thursday night at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. Though not as evocatively titled as her last one, "Barnacles of Joy", there's enough beguiling lyrical imagery and crafty coffeehouse instrumentation on this one to last you a while. Bonus fact: For what it's worth, she sorta looks like Carrie-Anne Moss.

- Rob Harvilla, East Bay Express, February 4, 2004

"Most good songwriters should be given honorary degrees in clinical psychology - they all but set up practice on stage, in your stereo, in your car - but Vanessa Lowe actually has one. The practicing life was not for her, however; she gave it all up to move to Berkeley - which she calls 'the best place on Earth'. Though she says that she's now a dormant psychologist, and has been playing solo for the past two years, I'd say she's still ministering to the needy through her songs, which explore the various trials of women navigating the rocky shoals of life. The show at Tuva is the debut of her trio, the Lowlifes (with Adrian West on violin and Toby Hawkins on percussion). Evocative singer-songwriter Ira Marlowe and folk-swampy newcomers Hoarhound also perform".

- Davina Baum, Oakland Urban View, 22 August 2001

vanessa lowe