Second Stage: Little-Known Bands You Should Hear

Second Stage: Melissa Czarnik

With few exceptions, Bob Boilen and I can usually guess what a CD is going to sound like just by looking at the cover art.  I guess when you look at several hundred discs a week, you start to see patterns.   But you can add Melissa Czarnik's new album, Raspberry Jesus, to the list of ones I got very, very wrong.  Here is is:

cover for Melissa Czarnik
courtesy of the artist

What would you guess?  Angular post-punk?  Chamber pop? Speed metal (but ironically)?  I figured it was some sort of mopey, introspective, whisper-rock-folk, singer-songwriter fare (not that there's anything wrong with that).  It turns out Czarnik is indeed a poet, a gifted writer, with a fantastic voice.  But her medium isn't broody folk.  It's hip-hop.

Czarnik is a soulful, fluid rapper, backed by the five-piece Eric Mire Band.  Together, they've produced a surprising, potent and thoughtful mix of funk, jazz, soul and hip-hop.  Czarnik's flow reminds me a lot of Lauryn Hill's, so it wasn't surprising to learn that Czarnik cites Hill as an influence.  She's even included a few short skits interspersed throughout Raspberry Jesus, a bit like Hill did on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Raspberry Jesus is Czarnik's sophomore release, coming two years after her debut, Strawberry Cadillac.  I had a hard time picking just one cut to feature here, so you'll definitely want to check out the rest of Raspberry Jesus.  You can hear and learn more at Czarnik's website.

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