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February 2024
Vol. 23, No. 5

CD Reviews

FEEF MOONEY: The Cleo September Saga: Cleo September and Cleo Redux

by Terry RolandJanuary 2024

Beware! Cleo September is on the move and in no small way, thanks to L.A.-based singer-songwriter Feef Mooney. The Cleo September Saga (2022’s Cleo September and 2023’s Cleo Redux) is a masterpiece of fused Americana creativity. In 2001, Scottish singer-songwriter Feef Mooney aka Fjaere Nilsson released her artistic breakthrough album, Cartoon Vagabonds, which presented the challenge of producing a series of songs cloaked in uniquely colorful characters. Behind the curtain of songwriting wizardry, vocal distinction, hypnotic melodies, and lyrical insights was a singularly fine singer-songwriter, Fjaere Nilsson. The album was a critical success that allowed this formidable artist, with strong ties to Scottish and American folk music traditions, to experiment with a variety of genres, styles, and pop textures with the freedom of a newborn pony at play in a field of dreams.

Her 2022 follow-up, Cleo September, is an apt continuation of Cartoon Vagabond, but it takes us deeper into one character’s musings as she dances and spins us through her everyday world.

This series of songs was born in the heart of Los Angeles when she rented an apartment at the Charlie Hotel in West Hollywood, formerly home to the creator of the silent film icon, The Tramp. With no small trace of irony, she notes that she stayed in the room called The Dylan, the master of masked identities in song. Cleo, like Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp and Dylan’s Mystery Tramp, is the author’s invention and portal for looking at life’s twists and turns. Like the best L.A. Film Noir of the Golden Era of Hollywood, the setting became a character. The arc of this saga in song is a valentine to Los Angeles as it has passed from its vintage days to our modern times. She illustrates this on the wistful “Opening Day.”

I saw the Little Tramp
he slept where it wasn’t damp
beside an old off ramp by the 101
Tossing his bowler hat so high
Nods to the cars passing by
“Buck up and never say die,”
Though he speaks to no one.

A brilliant turn in bringing this album to the light of day is the artist’s hand-picked collaboration with the innovative pop-rock producer and instrumentalist Fernando Perdomo. He provides a soundscape that gives space and artistic empathy to the proceedings, allowing for a glorious fusion of funk, pop, rock, jazz, and folk textures that underscore the production with a near genius sensibility. Think Todd Rundgren meets Brian Wilson, with a twist of Prince and the Beatles’ psychedelic era.

The songs, stripped down to their essential themes, capture the sudden discovery of joy on songs like the title track, “Cleo September,” which celebrates the August-September feeling of our hero who finds herself in love with a younger man. “You Made Me a Believer” is a tribute to the seduction of L.A. and its promise of fame. “Let Me Be Light,” portrays the celebration of a new day and raises a fist to the ever-approaching uncertainty.

But it’s the heartbreak songs of farewell “Hello Again,” inspired by her friend Zak, son of L.A.-based songwriting legend Harry Nilsson, that drive us deeper into the soul of the album where the cloak often becomes transparently beautiful. “California Dream Girl” illustrates the darker side of the L.A. dream with the story of Ann Heche.

To extend the work into a roots-friendly reinvention, the 2023 Cleo Redux is a remix of the sessions. The remix provides a warmth and intimacy that strengthens the thematic blend of this collection without losing any immediacy of the 2022 release. The 12-song collection adds three songs including “Easy,” providing a glimpse into the next chapter of Cleo’s romance. Perdomo lays down the background vocals with a nod to the Beatles, scattered throughout this album with distinctive George Harrison lead guitar along for this mystery tour. “

The Cleo September Saga is a prime example of how an artist’s imagination populates her creative work in a way that is as inspired and profound as it is entertaining. For a city that resides between the Pacific Ocean and the Mojave Desert, this album is a masterful oasis of creative joy.

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