Carla Bozulich is a bona fide survivor - a middle-aged woman who like Edith Piaf, has made a career out of exploring and recreating the pain of her own desperate past. A self-confessed 'junkie whore' at 20, she pulled herself out of the agony of her addictions and threw herself into music after a close encounter in rehab with the work of Gustav Mahler.
Working her way through the LA post-punk scene with Ethyl Meatplow, she moved out to the wilder reaches of country with critically acclaimed but modest selling outfit The Geraldine Fibbers. Last year, she went solo with a courageous remake of Willie Nelson's 1975 country concept album, Red Headed Stranger. It was so good the man himself even guested, and the import-only CD was voted best of the year in the UK's Sunday Times.
With springtime shows coming up in London and an appearance at 2004's All Tomorrow's Parties, Bozulich has released a Europe-only taster of her work so far. Beginning with two songs from Red Headed Stranger, it also includes seven unreleased live tracks from shows in Tucson and San Francisco.
After the soporific country traditionalism of the two studio recordings, the live material is a welcome shock to the senses. Angular and wild, it's very American yet vividly recalls the work of British chanteuses PJ Harvey and Marianne Faithfull - whose Times Square she covers here - in its marvellous anger, keening sensuality and bitter thirst for revenge.
The nightmarish, folk-inflected Outside Of Town looks back at a doomed, incestuous love affair which ends in murder: "Your hands they offend me, they pull me apart. Your eyes they can burn a hole right through my heart. I'm ruined for love and I'm ruined for life. I'll never be nothing." The ferocious Arrow To My Drunken Eye employs scratchy, raw amplified strings to savage effect as Bozulich audibly and spectacularly unravels. And there's a disturbingly honest reading of Neil Young's melancholy Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets) which cuts to the quick.
As a recorded introduction to the work of this courageously flawed survivor, this can't be bettered. But if you get the chance, go and see her live.
:: Clare O'Brien