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BRENDA KAHN (Buy CDs by this artist)
Goldfish Don't Talk Back (Community 3) 1989
Epiphany in Brooklyn (Chaos/Columbia) 1992
Destination Anywhere (Shanachie) 1996

New Jersey-born singer/songwriter Kahn begins her first album with nothing more than brushed drums and a wise insight — "I don't know nothing 'bout singing the blues/I got no holes in my pockets, rips in my shoes/But I got a heart that's heavy." That striking introduction leads to an otherwise inconsistent collection of clever topical anti-folk and folky-rock originals. Kahn's voice works best in gentle, jazzier settings; challenged with string bass, light drumming and her own hearty guitar strumming, a loss of control obscures the nicer qualities of her singing.

Those nicer qualities are largely absent from Epiphany in Brooklyn, an album so melodramatically oversung that Kahn could be auditioning for the Ethel Merman part in some Broadway-does-folksingers production. Even the tender and intimate "My Lover" and "Lost" get out of hand at pivotal junctures, revealing not just Kahn's indelicacy but her unstable pitch. Producer David Kahne does little to improve or obscure the elemental guitar/voice delivery: a little cello here, some mandolin there, an economical rhythm section to give several songs a little drive. The onetime mixologist pours a lot of her personal observations in bars, making a blend of the scuzzy and artistic that rivets reality to her like an old coat. But it all sounds like demos, offhand efforts of a moderate talent lacking the tools to adequately deliver her finely observed thoughts.

[Ira Robbins]