© 2000


4.5 Stars

Disburden Disciple is a more poetic record. From the suffocating two word themes in “Bound,” “Drug free/smoke free/booze free/Love bound/Debt free/ Disease free /GuiltFree/Love bound…where drums kick home a groove accented by turntables and beat boxes before the guitars climb over the top halfway through, to J’s voice singing it out, no screaming, no need to shriek when your heart is on fire and smoldering in the ashes of slavery to a love(r) that possesses body and mind as well. This is the joy of drowning. And she can get into the dark space where the small voice crying for balance resides and let it open up enough to underscore this many pleasured, many pained prison of desire (love, romance, sex).

Disburden Disciple reveals a Jarboe we haven’t seen or heard before. On “Dear 666” as guitars and tom toms are punctuated with what sounds like the cocking of a machine pistol. And a bass covered over in its own lower poetic excesses, Jarboe offers herself freely, speaking to a Satan she’s been given over to speaking with the rage of the powerless, the seductive ballad of the voiceless, of Pauline Reage’s O. She can hold the greasy, dirty soul and offer both sides of the irony of cruelty. This isn’t powerful; it’s shattering.

Recorded in Atlanta and Israel—during a full-scale war, and featuring musicians from both places, Jarboe proves a very effective bandleader with an elegant, dramatic sense of dynamic and pace. Her poetics are unspeakably beautiful. Unspeakable because she gives utterance to the unmentionable, to the wound, the scar, the empty cavity, or, as Maurice Blanchot has said, “the disaster, which, when it comes, does not come.” Or perhaps Jarboe knows, all along that, as Edmond Jabes states so plainly “Mark the book with a red marker, for in the beginning, the wound is invisible.”

Atmospherics bring the listener deeper into a world she has not seen before, or if she has, she hasn’t confessed it. This is the world Jarboe inhabits not only for herself, but for all those empty faces who’ve never spoken their brokenness, their missing selves, their suffocation in the act of love: “Breathe in my open mouth/Give me your kiss of life/Breathe on my open heart/Lead me out from the dark/Here are the jars to save the blood.”

On “Scorpion,” a spoken word piece, where swirling guitars and a slow, codeine-lidded bassline offer a tightrope, Jarboe walks out, so tenderly, so unprotected, so full of her own disappearance and without malice. Rhythms slip under and rub against each other, first subtly then blatantly, licking their way up her thighs, through her belly to her heart and power her voice: “the price for intimacy and vulnerability/Is the ability to inflict ad receive pain/So you have warned me how to pull back/I rub my eyes with silk threads/While knowing full well that venom is addictive.”

On Disburden Disciple Jarboe’s musical reach is boundless. From the aforementioned grooves and stretches where electric guitars and scratched phrases meet and dance to the Brechtian pathos of “Golden Idol,” where a resurrected Marlene Dietrich sings lovingly to a ghost of the image of Kurt Weill. And in the backing soundscapes, the truth makes its voice heard: Out of the throats of wolves (yes, really). The poetic experimentation on “The Séance” offers the spirit of Judy Garland wedded to the drama of Dario Argento’ Suspiria as a harp and a chorus of sirens (all Jarboe) tape her into the mix.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Jarboe’s recording is her willingness both musically and lyrically, to inhabit spaces that are unthinkable—or at least seen as unreachable—by other contemporary musical artists. In song after song after the blade of love’s tenderness and cruelty lays her bare and bleeding, she offers another vein, with an open heart, hemorrhaging and burning, completely unwilling to forsake hope and beauty no matter the extent of horror and dehumanization. She pays the price and loses herself and in turns gains a sense of strength and fortitude that are fraught with the fiery truth of integrity. This is a woman who sings of love in all its dimensions with the equanimity of abandon, whether she does it with a soul song, a folk song, a hip hop track or a classic ‘40s style Hollywood ballad or towering labial rocker.

Exploitation, bliss and redemption are thinly divided territories in the heart, all of us are torturers and liberators, and all of us slaves as well as saints. This is Jarboe’s truth musically, and one would guess, personally. It is a truth shared courageously from experience and aesthetic vision. It has been articulated and held sacred by artists from Charles Baudelaire and Billie Holiday to Edith Piaf and Leonard Cohen, from Rumi to Pauline Reage, from Georges Bataille to Dinah Washington, and from Scott Walker to Nina Simone to Egon Schiele and Larry Clark. For those who cannot see the strength and the art of living from this stance, then forget it, don’t listen to this record, you’re lost anyway.

But, if you have for one minute been honest with yourself, you know that you can find yourself, however frightened, in Jarboe’s soundworld, willing to take one more step into the center of one damaged heart as it encounters and embraces another—no matter how mixed the motives in the individual search for wholeness. Jarboe offered a portrait of this encounter and the struggle to define oneself within it and apart from it. She has done so artfully, articulately, passionately, obsessively and even tenderly in the midst of all the pathos and violence. She has offered her hand and beckoned us: This is the door; step inside.

Thom Jurek