Preparing to Be Forgotten
A stifled soul finally implodes: The music of Ellen West Ellen West is the alias adopted by Buffalo singer and guitarist Michele Buono when she plays solo acoustic shows. Michele's unassuming presence off the stage gives way to a hard charging guitar and voice at the forefront when she plays with her band, a power trio called The Missing Planes. But even those who've seen that band, and recognized Michele's talent in that role, can't begin to understand the depth of her potential, and scope of her ability unless they've seen an Ellen West set. Saying that Ellen West is completely different than The Missing Planes sounds like a cliché, but it's the absolute truth. The differences go well beyond the obvious surface contrasts of acoustic to electric, solo to band, sparse and introspective to heavy and biting. The songs on Ellen West's debut CD, Preparing To Be Forgotten, are about as emotionally direct and devastatingly honest as music gets. You don't even have to know Buono/West to recognize that her music is the sound of what has been choked back, controlled, and pushed down inside finally gushing out because she's run out of room to suppress any more in herself. If this all sounds intense...well, it is. Ellen West's music isn't for those who live under the delusion that life should be a 24-7 façade of fake smiles and rainbows, but it yields incredible dividends to those willing to invest themselves and their time; those who value truth beyond all else. It's not surprising that Michele chose to use a name other than her own when performing solo. Any artist opening themselves up to the extent she does can take comfort in a little bit of anonymity, some armor, however thin or transparent it may be. It's also no shock that she borrowed the name Ellen West from a song written by her idol Kristin Hersh for her legendary band Throwing Muses. What may very well surprise a lot of people, even those that know Michele best, is just how incredibly far she has progressed as a songwriter. When writing about Michele, and the music of Ellen West, I cannot even begin to feign objectivity. These subjects are too close to my heart, too big a part of my life. See, between The Missing Planes and our previous brief stint in Georgia Tucker, I have been Michele's drummer for over five years. I have been privileged enough to have a front row seat in which to witness her immense, sometimes stunning, growth as a writer and performer. Years ago I told Michele that she should accept the offers she was receiving to play solo shows. At the time, I don't think she fathomed she'd ever be able to get on stage by herself. My persistent urging was due in part to my own misgivings about my versatility. I don't like to play quiet, and I hate brushes, probably because deep down I know that playing the drums with some touch, some finesse, is much harder than bashing away like I usually do. Playing soft would reveal my own deficiencies in skill and technique. But, my insecurities weren't my sole motivation in prodding Michele to play solo. And it wasn't just the unconditional encouragement one gives a good friend just because they are a good friend. I believed that Michele had the ability to do whatever she wanted to do, and that she had a specific and significant raw talent as a songwriter. And, I was right, but I had no idea how right I was until I heard the finished tracks that she recorded with our friend Justin Guerin (Dai Atlas, The Hook Generation, Blood Of Jupiter, The Raven Society, Vera Lena, et al.) for her solo CD. It's no exaggeration to say that I sat rapt in some combination of pride and disbelief as I listened to songs like 'Thin Air,' 'I Shouldn't Have To Lie,' and 'Winning Isn't Everything,' which far exceeded the expectations even I had for her. I felt my gut sink hearing her sing, 'The space between us has grown, I can't reach until I bring you home,' on 'Thin Air,' her insistent strumming underscored by Jen Sojka's mournful cello. Michele is my best friend, and because of that, she's put up with a lot of shit, and stuck with me through many difficult times in my life. But regardless of who made them, these songs would impact me like a solid kick directly to the chest.