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Karen Mantler: Farewell

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Karen Mantler’s latest collection purports to be a paean to a pet. Arnold the cat is dead, remembered here in liner photos and what may be real anguish: There is no notice on the CD disclaiming any injury to animals in its making. Tonal ambiguities aside-there’s always room for tongue in these cheekily child-like sentiments-what is clear here is that Karen Mantler has a keen sense of song structure, and a dark affinity for minor keys. Her musical co-conspirators in this mock wake include, in the main, Michael Evans, whose percussion credits include frying pan, oven rack and whisk; Carla Bley takes up her C melody sax on two tunes; and Scott Williams adds vocal embellishments on one. The thematic focus of these pieces is the details of modern life-constraints on honest living that add up to “My Life is Hell,” one of 11 tracks. The false naivete of this song cycle grows somewhat tiresome over its extent, however: One is left longing not for Arnold, but the straightforward self-knowledge of Garfield and Bill the Cat.