New Tricks (2021) is a long-awaited collection of songs written and performed by Cindy Lawson, who has the distinction of being both an important part of Minnesota music history and completely up to date as a gifted vocalist and talented songwriter absent from the scene far too long.
Her performance bona fides have been hard-earned dating back to the early eighties in jazz and R&B bands knocking out four sets a night in hotel lounges and cocktail bars, tirelessly honing her vocal skills with jobbing professional musicians infusing all of the emotion she could in sometimes indifferent material, designed to be aural wallpaper to augment the conversation of passive audiences. In 1984, inspired by the exploding Minneapolis Music Scene, Lawson exited the steady paychecks and increasingly stifling covers treadmill and got her first guitar.
Her first, the all-female band The Clams, began as a more pop-centric combo with loads of catchy hooks and Lawson’s trained, soothing vocals to highlight them but after a year of constant gigging and evolving, as someone in the band might have asked, “Who put their Rolling Stones in our Bangles?” The band morphed into one of the legendary, hard rocking and “go to” party bands in the Midwest, holding their own and owning audiences in clubs, colleges, and even a state prison, with Lawson’s harder edge vocals following suit. Her songwriting evolved as well, exposing a knack for striking three chord rock songs, they rang out with power chords and bluesy confessions chased with sly grins that bounced off club walls like they’d been trapped inside her for years.
After the Clams went their separate ways at the tail end of the '80s, the big time rang Lawson up from the East Coast. High profile names in the Music Industry, New York City, national exposure, the sky was the limit, but all their glitter? Fool’s Gold. Having dealt firsthand not with the glow of musical fortune but with what the spotlight hides, she returned home to Minnesota.
Her post-Clams band Whoops Kitty, while not capturing the following of her earlier band, found her more versatile and assured as a strong songwriter and vocally powerful than ever from the ethereal “Stormchaser” to the acid-tongued “Boys Will Be Boys (Okinawa)” and the delicious fan girl anthem “Jonathan Richman”, Lawson was still in ascent as an artist. As with many artists, after a decade of trying, she did not yet know what she saw as “the writing on the wall,” was just a couplet for another song that needed to gestate for a decade or two.
Essentially retired, working and raising a family kept Lawson mostly away from the Four Horsewomen, “Pen, Guitar, Microphone, Audience,” for the better part of two decades save the occasional sitting in with a local band and a sold-out Clams Reunion Show. She would gradually resurface, fronting tribute bands, being a sought-after guest vocalist, and landing a steady gig backing local legend Curtiss A at his famous annual John Lennon Tribute Concerts.
With more to say musically than ever and the joy of performing having returned it was time to let the Horsewomen ride again, in a slightly different order with Pen in the lead followed by Guitar, Microphone, and with a new band ready to go, and Audience on the horizon. Like a logline from a 70s action sequel, “She’s back, and this time it’s personal.”
Her new collection (with more to come) is more reflective, poetic, melodic, and pissed off than ever, in the best way possible. The voice never left her and she’s raising it the skill she honed those years in the lounges, the swagger she discovered those years in The Clams, the pain and joy she experienced years after, and the wisdom to know whatever the subject, the experience, the reflection, her aim is to target compassion versus indifference, empathy versus cruelty and love versus its cold absence, but being an ever accomplished Songwriter, never Verse Versus Chorus.
Whatever love, life, or the world throw at Cindy Lawson, it isn’t writing on the wall, but a couplet for her next song. Because, what are slings and arrows, to someone with so many words and music in her quiver? Cindy Lawson is up to New Tricks.