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Emily Curtis' style straight from heart

John W. Barry
On The Record

The lone, ruby pump stands proudly in a puddle of Brooklyn rain, the comical casualty of a joyous romp through an early morning thunderstorm with a date or the survivor of a lover's quarrel turned ugly breakup.

Life is gray, but hundreds of sequins glisten in the slices of black-and-white sunlight that manages to squeak through overhead clouds. Standing proud on a bleak, asphalt horizon, the raging-red, high-heel shoe even manages to locate a temporary double, creating a pair, making a couple, with its own reflection.

Red rules on the artwork and packaging that surround the latest CD by Emily Curtis, a Manhattan native, graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, former Rosendale resident and current Brooklynite.

The CD cover fixes a crouching Curtis beneath a fiery-red, leather biker's hat that is either reflecting its hue off the pavement beneath her or joining the roadway in catching colors that emanate from deep inside her.

No cliches here

But it is the lonely pump on the back cover of the CD's liner notes that captures the spirit of Curtis, which will be on display Saturday night when she opens up for alt-rocker Patti Rothberg at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling.

The lyrics that Curtis writes speak of someone who repeatedly stands proud while fending off life's loneliness, shines on the outside while sinking on the inside and wades through life's puddles while sipping its champagne.

A persistent theme that trails Curtis through her songwriting is the joy of falling in love with the right person, and she is able to express this feeling without leaning back on a crutch of cliche.

Curtis opens her emotions wide for the listener, standing as vulnerable and honest as Joni Mitchell did on her 1971 landmark album, "Blue."

"I can't help it," she said. "It kind of spills out. Writing music for me is very therapeutic. I think it's more real if you're writing from the heart."

But Curtis also stands firm and steady, with the attitude of Liz Phair, wearing a smirk like a smock.

She has no trouble expressing herself when life's puddles get splashed on her boots.

"Look who's back again/Most untimely and/I was just leaving/Excuse me while I punch some wall in," she sings on "San Francisco Rain."

But Curtis also manages to find the lighter side of life's heartaches and engage in some puddle-splashing of her own. One of the CD's best songs, "Maggie's Party," is a composite sketch of a sheepish boyfriend breaking up with his significant other on the way to a party before scoping other women after the now-separated duo arrives at the affair.

"I tried the champagne, it was flat/I tried to dance but I couldn't handle," Curtis sings in the first-person. "That they were playing Michael Jackson's beat it/Where was the Cure when you really need it."

John W. Barry is the music writer for the Poughkeepsie Journal. Write him c/o Poughkeepsie Journal, P.O. Box 1231, Poughkeepsie, NY 12602, call (845) 437-4822, or e-mail jobarry@poughkee.gannett.com.