Woman to Woman, isn’t Denver musician Esmé Patterson’s first go at a concept album. Years ago, before starting the band she’s best known for fronting, Paper Bird, she and Paper Bird’s future guitar player gave it the old college rock try.
“We wanted to write an album that was in the same form as Faulker’s Sound and the Fury, in that there are four different characters’ perspectives on the same story,” Patterson told BW.
The songs were written, but never recorded as Patterson started Paper Bird a few months later and shifted gears altogether.
Now? “I don’t even remember most of those songs,” says Patterson. “I think they were cool.”
But unlike her first go at the concept album, Woman to Woman, Patterson’s second solo album, was put down on tape and was released by Greater Than Collective, the label run by local burrito purveyors Illegal Pete’s.
Woman to Woman takes iconic songs written to or about women and responds in the voice of those that the song is addressed to.
“Your man don’t mean a thing to me, he keeps leaning in,” she sings in the character of Dolly Parton’s nemesis, that famous Auburn-haired jezebelle, Joleeeeeeeeene.
Patterson also takes on the perspective of Eleanor Rigby, Alison (of Elvis Costello fame), and more. And while many of Patterson’s subjects were lyrically scorned or objectified, she doesn’t see Woman to Woman as striking back in any way, just expanding the dialogue.
“It’s not an angry album,” says Patterson. “I’m not coming at male songwriters. It’s more of a reimagining of popular songs and trying to see if there was another angle we could see them from.”
She also wrote a wholly unangsty response to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon,” in which Stevie Nicks gushes wiccan about the mystical lady R, but that one didn’t make the album.
“I liked it in that it was this song about a woman, written by a woman,” says Patterson. “And then the response turned out to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m so mystical.’ It wasn’t that interesting. That one I kind of abandoned.”
Another song that didn’t make the cut came from the lady who was not Michael Jackson’s lover, Billie Jean.
“I already had a song that was a response to a song about a guy knocking up a girl and I didn’t want to belabor that point,” says Patterson.
While the songs Patterson respond to come from across the musical spec trum, everything from Leadbelly to The Beach Boys, the backing tracks for Woman to Woman stick largely to the indie or alt-country sound. It’s more raw than her work in Paper Bird, with copious blues notes from a grungy slide guitar and Patterson cranking up the twang in her voice. Patterson says much of the sound comes from the fact that nearly all the tracks on Woman to Woman were recorded live with a backing band, including members of punkers Bad Weather California.
“We had a lot of fun recording,” she says.
Patterson will celebrate the release of Woman to Woman with an in-store performance at Denver’s Twist and Shout on Friday, May 23, a show that has now been rescheduled twice. Twist and Shout says those that buy the album early will get first entry into the rescheduled performance.
At a recent prerelease performance viewable on ThePopShopStudio channel on YouTube, Patterson brought up a series of notable local musicians such as Reverend Deadeye and Gregory Alan Isakov to perform the songs she was responding to on Woman to Woman. But she doesn’t think it’s likely you’ll hear any of them try the same trick with songs written about men.
“I was joking with my drummer that he should do the opposite, that he should write songs in the perspective of men,” says Patterson. “He kind of gave up. He said there’s nothing for the men to say. The women are usually right.”
Touché, Miss Patterson. Touché.