Ellen Foley is back with a vengeance. The singer-actress who shared the microphone with Meat Loaf on Bat Out of Hell‘s immortal “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” has one of the smallest yet choicest discographies in rock: just three albums between 1979 and 1983 on which she was joined by such collaborators as Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Vini Poncia, and The Clash’s Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon, and Joe Strummer; and a 2013 “comeback” LP. But Foley was hardly ever away. She flourished on stage and screen, starring on Broadway in Into the Woods and Me and My Girl, appearing on television’s Night Court and Law and Order and in films including Fatal Attraction, Cocktail, and Married to the Mob. She was performing off-Broadway when COVID-19 hit, and now has returned with just her fifth studio album. Fighting Words on the Urban Noise label is an impressive and timely statement from a rock-and-roll survivor.
Tight, crunchy, guitar-driven rockers dominate Fighting Words. The album’s producer/primary songwriter Paul Foglino (5 Chinese Brothers) knows his way around a melody, and his robust rousers such as “Are You Good Enough?” suit Foley’s gutsy, empowering vocals. The confident musical question which opens the album makes one thing abundantly clear: the ever-fierce Foley is in charge here.
She’s ably supported throughout by a crack band including Foglino, Slim Simon, Michael Jung, and the late Stephen B. Antonakos on guitar; C.P. Roth (who’s played with Ozzy Osbourne, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, and Suzanne Vega), Mark Ettinger, J.C. Chmiel, and Foglino on bass; Roth and Ettinger on keyboards; and Roth and Steve Goulding (a veteran of Graham Parker and The Rumour) on drums. In addition, Ula Hedwig (The Harlettes) and Rachelle Garniez join in on background vocals.
On the anthemic “I’m Just Happy to Be Here,” one of the album’s undisputed highlights, Foley teams with Karla DeVito. DeVito, of course, was the singer who appeared in the “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” video lip-synching to Foley’s original vocal. DeVito toured with Meat Loaf and also boasts a Broadway pedigree (The Pirates of Penzance, Big River), and she and Foley previously teamed with Meat in 2016 on Jim Steinman’s epic “Going All the Way (A Song in 6 Movements)” for his Braver Than We Are album. Her voice melds beautifully with Foley’s on “I’m Just Happy to Be Here” which evokes the rip-roaring punk energy of Elvis Costello and The Attractions’ early days, albeit with a brighter lyrical outlook.
Foley is more relaxed on the twangy “I Call My Pain by Your Name” which contrasts its sing-a-long melody with a melancholy lyric in the best country tradition as well as on the delicious plea “Come On, Love.” “This Won’t Last Forever” is a crisp slice of radio-friendly pop-rock and just one of the memorable tunes here which Foley sings to the hilt. She touches on classic R&B with a persuasive cover of Wilson Pickett’s “I Found a Love,” first recorded by The Falcons in 1962 and conjures a Rolling Stones-esque blend of blues and rock on the searing “I’ll Be True” and imploring “Leave Him, Janie.” Her gifts as a storyteller come to the fore on the gentle “Fill Your Cup.”
The loveliest moment on Fighting Words is the finale, a tender and intimate reading of Jim Steinman’s “Heaven Can Wait.” The songwriter cast Foley as Wendy in his 1977 musical Neverland, a riff on the Peter Pan mythology that inspired Bat Out of Hell (both the album and the 2017 musical). She sang the stunner of a ballad in the show’s Washington, DC run and has performed it over the years in concert. While Meat Loaf introduced the song on record, his old friend Foley reclaims it here. “Heaven” showcases the innate theatricality of Foley’s vocal instrument, and with the passing of Steinman earlier this year, it takes on added resonance. (The version included on Fighting Words was first issued as a digital-only single in 2015 and now makes its physical debut.)
Ellen Foley’s Fighting Words is a taste of paradise from one of rock’s most versatile performers, and can stand proudly alongside her past recordings. It’s available now on CD and digital formats from Bandcamp at the link below!
Ellen Foley, Fighting Words (Urban Noise Music, 2021)
- Are You Good Enough?
- Be Nice
- I’m Just Happy to Be Here – with Karla DeVito
- I Call My Pain by Your Name
- I Found a Love
- I’ll Be True
- Come On Love
- Fill Your Cup
- This Won’t Last Forever
- Leave Him Janie
- Heaven Can Wait