By now, Lisa Germano is probably more than a little tired of being referred to as the one-time fiddle player for John Mellancamp—especially when she's issued eight distinctive albums of her own. Magic Neighbor, which arrives three years after its predecessor In the Maybe World (also on Michael Gira's Young God Records), is as idiosyncratic as the others dotting her discography, if not even more so. Gira's observation that the songs on Magic Neighbor suggest kinship with the One From The Heart soundtrack (featuring Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle) and Disney songs in general seems to me well-founded, with many of Germano's songs sounding very much like quasi-theatrical pieces; though obviously raggedy compared to the average Broadway tune, her songs are nevertheless as open-hearted in the way they reach out towards the listener. Par for the bedroom recording course, the thirty-four-minute collection exudes an intimacy and vulnerability that makes her material all the more engaging. She builds her three-minute settings into rich set-pieces using rickety piano, keening strings, close-miked vocals, and a wealth of smaller sonic detail, with much of the material resembling semi-macabre bed-time stories that have less chance of inducing slumber as causing a nightmare or two.
“Marypan,” a beautiful, plaintive piano miniature opens the album, after which “To the Mighty One” see-saws between episodes of melancholy cloudiness and sunny uplift. Woozy waltz sections and tempo fluctuations in “Simple” bring the music's theatrical qualities into sharp relief, while the wistful and sweetly melodic “The Prince of Plati” plays like a supplication of fairy tale-like design. Voices murmur beneath the surface of consciousness in the spectral “Painting the Doors” and invade the listener's consciousness like haunted spirits in the exotic “Suli-mon.” Germano's range extends from splendid instrumental vignettes such as “Kitty Train” and the yearning “Cocoon” to the album's most naked performance, the stirring vocal ballad “Snow.” Gira's comment that “(t)o sit down and spend some time inside her songs is a tremendously rewarding experience,” is, in this case, less promotion-driven hyperbole than compelling observation.