Saturday June 30th, The Chester Meeting House, 4 Liberty St., Chester, (860) 526-0015.
She has been known by different names, affected an amazing number of different personae, hooked up with varying varieties of musical ensembles. But when you speak to Chester resident, Lauren Agnelli she doesn't seem at all like some sort of composite character. She knows who she is. She knows what she likes. And she sure knows the wicked ways of the world and how to deal with them. Although her new band is called Amalgamated Muck, you should know what came before. In fact, you probably do.
"There was always music in my house," said Agnelli, who still has a trace of Queens Street Kid, in both her speech and pugnacious attitude. "My dad always had [classic station] WQXR on the radio. My mom played piano. We had show tunes on often: My Fair Lady and The Music Man. And, as a kid, I fell in love with the song 'Midnight In Moscow.'"
Then came the hard stuff. Grace Slick and other tough-chick female rockers. Then truly transgressive music.
"In the mid-70s, I fell in love with glitter rock," said Agnelli. "Especially Lou Reed, during his Sally Can't Dance phase. This was when I was at SUNY Purchase. But, mostly, I was just into expressing myself. I wrote journalism [often under the monicker Trixie A. Balm], penned songs, sang. I've always had a lot to say."
Then in the '80s, Agnelli became a star of sorts. She and pals Tom Goodkind and Bruce Paskow formed the Washington Squares. Replete with berets, goatees and tongues-in-their-cheeks, this trio made some fine, faux folk music. Sang about how there was a new generation of idealists coming along, who were going to straighten out the mess that Ronald Reagan had helped create. They got great reviews and drew good crowds. Agnelli is quick to point out the cat who really made that happen.
"I give Tom a lot of credit for making us as well-known as we were," she says. "He was on the phone, all day, talking us up and making plans. He really made it clear to me that promotion, even self-promotion, has a lot to do with your success."
Despite her love for a rainbow of music genres, Agnelli's most recent project is something akin to the hard-folk sound she laid down with the Squares. Amalgamated Muck (also featuring Matthew Male, Rodney Maxwell and Brian and Rose Wolfe) is a lovely album full of rootsy writing and well-chosen covers. "Hang On To Your Hope,' by the Wolfes, is a stirring anthem for our hopeless times. The Muck's cover of Dylan's "Spanish Harlem Incident" kicks ass. But the title song, "The New Leisure Class," co-written by Agnelli, may be the disc's highlight. Not to mention its (and the band's) Mission Statement.
"It's a bit of a joke, but it's true, too," said Agnelli. "A lot of folks are laid off, unemployed, under-employed these days. That includes a lot of folks here in Chester, which is a cool, artsy town of about 4,000. We're all trying to find a way to get by. And find work. While we pursue our artistic dreams. That's partly what our band is about. We're trying to give hope to people who are having a hard time in these recession days. That you can still dream your dreams, no matter how rough things get."
Agnelli, who's married, said she's not immune to putting her writing and music-playing dreams on hold, here and there, while she does "survival jobs," to fill in the financial cracks.
"I won't do anything horrible just for a paycheck," Agnelli said, her Queens attitude coming to the fore. "But I've worked all my life. So I'm okay with having to do stuff in addition to my writing and playing. Whatever it takes to not end up on the streets."
In the meantime, this survivor of the glitter, punk, neo-folk and alternative booms is very excited. Amalgamated Muck has a bunch of gigs coming up in Connecticut in June and July. And Agnelli is "very proud" of the band she's in and having made it to this point. "I've played with some very cool people. I've made some good records. But what I'm most excited about? Pretty soon, Amalgamated Muck is going to be doing a gig in Hamden... I think that means I've finally made it."
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