Album review: Exene Cervenka’s ‘The Excitement of Maybe’

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With her eclectic, thrift store-haunting style — part silent-era movie queen, part art-school urchin — Exene Cervenka has always been one to collage disparate eras and styles.

Cervenka’s artwork — rooted in crafts and assemblage — combines layers of kitsch Americana, Midcentury ephemera, bric-a-brac, found photographs and religious tracts with poetry and snippets of text in her distinctive scrawl, twisting these vestiges of our American past and making them her own.

“The Excitement of Maybe,” an album of love songs, is right in line with that project.

Her voice is itself a kind of craft object: modest, simple, unadorned. You wouldn’t call it a girl’s voice, but it’s anything but gnarled with the passage of time. Rather, Cervenka’s voice has an old-soul quality, one that harkens back to a tradition of American folk — call it old-time music, around-the-house music — that sought to express deep commonplace emotions out of the softly sustained, clear articulation of compact, non-oblique lyrical sentiment.

Musically, this album, like 2009’s solo effort “Somewhere Gone,” is a departure from the bold, imaginative roots punk of X and Cervenka’s other bands Auntie Christ and Original Sinners. Even the fun-loving country stomp of the Knitters is squirrelly compared to “Maybe.” (Fellow Knitter and world-class guitar mensch Dave Alvin appears here, on “Already in Love”). Lyric-wise, the album shares themes — aching despair, domestic romance — with her other bands. It’s a world of driving rain, jukeboxes, barkeeps poised to kick everybody out for the night, empty highways and burnished vistas.


Throughout, Cervenka accompanies herself on acoustic guitar, with bassist Christian McBride and backing vocalist Cindy Wasserman deftly layered in arrangements that occasionally include strings, horns and piano to great effect. Catchy and immensely singable, the endless vocal refrains on “The Excitement of Maybe” aren’t going to leave your brain anytime soon.

— Grace Krilanovich

Exene Cervenka
“The Excitement of Maybe”
Bloodshot Records
Three stars