Back in the ‘80s, Maxine Petrucci and her sister, Roxy, formed the band Madam X with Bret Kaiser on vocals and Chris Doliber on the bass guitar. After one album, 1984’s “We Reserve the Right,” and a revolving door of replacement vocalists, following the departure of Kaiser, which included Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, the band eventually threw in the towel. To this day, however, Madam X remains the most notable line of Maxine’s resumé.
As “WTF” kicks the album off with some quick guitar scales and a nice riff played in unison by both the guitar and bass, it’s a wonder more listeners are not familiar with Petrucci’s work. She is clearly a talented guitarist and surrounds herself with gifted musicians. The mystery is solved, however, as soon as she opens her mouth. No, Maxine Petrucci doesn’t sing out of key and she doesn’t fall back on the safety net of Auto-Tune to get by, but her mixture of spoken and sung phrases sounds like Geddy Lee desperately trying to sing while dangling from a noose.
Take the title track, “Back to the Garden,” for instance. Opening with a choir of oos and aahs, listeners may be reminded of Dorothy walking into the Land of Oz for the first time. At first, the song seems quite peaceful, but then the lyrics enter and listeners are briskly ripped from the serene soundscape. Maxine’s delivery of the line “no more Vietnam, no more war, what the hell are we fighting for” sounds closer to a whine than anything else; causing any attempt at political commentary to fall flat as well. In fact, the only saving grace of the track is the sinister swagger of the guitars.
The remaining eight selections of Petrucci’s third solo album play out like a battle between good and evil. Although the heavy metal tonality of the album may be more commonly associated with the evil side of the spectrum, for fans of the genre, the excellent musicianship of Petrucci along with Pat DeLeon, Bryan Paxton, and Rachel May is clearly the representative of good in this scenario battling the vocals for the listener’s focus. On tracks like “Pink Angels,” the vocals win the battle, but in the end, the war is won by the instrumentation.
When listening to “Back to the Garden” from start to finish, the album seems to improve as it progresses, but really listeners just become more accustomed to Petrucci’s voice. Her delivery is definitely an acquired taste, but if you’re patient enough, some of the later cuts are worth the wait. The blues influenced, piano-driven “Gingerman” is a complete departure from the rest of the album musically, but after seven heavy rockers, Maxine’s voice somehow fits the mold; almost evoking her inner Joan Jett.
The highlight of the record, however, is “Wicked.” With some incredible flute playing by Maxine herself that would make Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson proud, “Wicked” is a step above the rest. During the solo section, both the flute and guitar share arpeggios and scales, offering listeners an exciting free lesson in music theory while still maintaining a heavy metal feel to the track as a whole. Jethro Tull may have won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 1989, but you have never heard flute and amped up guitars mixed like this before.
“Back to the Garden” won’t be climbing the Billboard charts or monopolizing any radio waves, but if you’re looking for a talented group of musicians with a unique sound, this might be right up your alley.