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Celia Chavez: Girls rock

Celia Chavez is promoted as a “torch singer for the 21st century” and “tiny but mighty”. Once one has heard the singer-songwriter’s work, it doesn’t seem like mere hyperbole. The Los Angeles-based artist is a native of Seattle, Washington who has been a “session singer and performer-for-hire” for years.

Celia Chavez: Girls rock
Celia Chavez: Girls rock
Courtesy of Celia Chavez
Celia Chavez
Courtesy of Celia Chavez

In fact, as a backing vocalist Chavez toured with Pink and performed with the likes of Julia Fordham, Burning Spear and Tina Sugandh. Chavez has also been seen the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno as part of Lili Haydn’s band. She also performed on a cover version of Jeff Buckley’s song, “Last Goodbye” by Robin Danar.

She would soon focus more on her own music. Her debut disc, Sailor's Daughter was an effective introduction to her signature sound. It featured 2 tracks including the album opener “Wishing Well”, the title track and the noteworthy “My Love”. Chavez reflects on the recording: “When I wrote Sailor’s Daughter, I was in the middle of saying goodbye to my father, who was ill and passed away before I completed the record, so that record came from kind of a sad, bittersweet place. I also wrote those songs on piano and nylon string acoustic guitar.”

In 2008 the song “Last Goodbye” climbed into the top 20 songs on Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” show. Her most recent recording, the EP titled White Flag Blue Sky, was released in late 2013 on the Pequeña Maquina Music.

The disc includes 5 tracks with a running time of nearly 18 minutes. Unlike some singer-songwriters who often set aside their guitars and only sing vocals on their CDs, Chavez notes: “I played all the electric and acoustic guitar on the record, keyboard bass, percussion and the keyboard solo on ‘Taxicab’."

The EP is about “glorious surrender”. Chavez elaborates: “I got the idea after surfing through a number of changes, disappointments, life events where there was the choice to struggle against what was happening or surrender to where I was and what the universe was dishing out. The surrendering brought a surprising amount of peace and felt like a strong choice rather than giving up a fight. So each song has to do with a different kind of surrender and its potential consequence. “

It opens on a comparatively quiet composition titled “Flood.” Chavez’ vocals and the music flow together quite nicely. Chavez says this is “about when seeming catastrophe hits, and realizing that an end can be a new beginning if seen from the other side.” Singer-songwriter Pi Jacobs who co-produced the project with mixer Eugene Toale guests on bass guitar.

The second selection is “Swell.” This is the only tune that was not written just by Chavez. This one was co-written with Janean Lsyk. Here Chavez changes it up with a slightly sexy song that is ripe for a music video. It’s got a nice retro feel to it and includes Jeff Young on keyboards. Chavez says this one “deals with giving yourself up to desire. It's pretty self-explanatory. There's power in passion, and sometimes you just gotta let it flow over and through you.

The next number is “She Understands These Things”. This one has a coffeehouse-gal-with-a-guitar feel to it. It’s a very acoustic melancholic, slightly sad song-story about "a different kind of catastrophe, a loss of stability at a later age perhaps, finding strength moving forward alone after the loss of a partner, finding a way to relax, let go, and move on to a new life. The woman in the song starts to remember things that she used to love that she lost when she settled down with her partner.”

“Taxicab on Cobblestones” follows. This one may seem almost like a regretful song but Chavez says it’s “not exactly regret; more like coming to peace with past choices and the roughness of that ride.” Engineer Erik Eldrnius adds drums and Kel Pritchard provides backing vocals. Danar reunites with Chavez long enough to produce drum tracks here. It is a good example of what Chavez--fresh off a gig with international Latin pop superstar Enrique Iglesias--can do as a writer as well as a singer.

The closing cut is “Praise My Destroyer.” This has a blues-rock feel to it with a fitting thrum and lift to it. Lyrically, it contains religious images that present an interesting viewpoint and shed some light on change.

Chavez elaborates: “This is my tribute to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. (Obviously I have been living in hippie SoCal for a while!) In a nutshell, Shiva is the destroyer of worlds, responsible for death and destruction, but not out of malice - his destruction clears the way for rebirth and renewal, like a forest fire."

She continues: "He's a complicated deity as he manages both death and birth. So I thought it was a great way to end the record, as death is the completion of a cycle, then you end up back at square one for the beginning of the next cycle. Brings it back full circle with ‘Flood’." Pritchard encores on backing vocals and Jacobs returns to add her voice to the mix as well.

Chavez concludes: “I think we fight ourselves and our circumstances a lot, and sometimes we just need to stop, take stock in our present situation, and start over from where we stand. Another yoga instructor saying I like is, ‘Root down to rise up’. In other words, instead of always concentrating on launching forwards or running running running, first stop, breathe, get your footing and make sure you’re grounded where you are, so your launch or your rise from your standing point is as powerful as it can be – and also so you have good balance! Hope that makes some metaphoric sense! Maybe the songs will make more sense.”

If you once you listen to Celia Chavez’ White Flag Blue Sky you fairly fall in love with music, don’t worry. “She Understands These Things”.

My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.