Gina Alibrio Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

Portland musician Gina Alibrio has been on my short list of favorite singers in Maine for a few years as the frontwoman for Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew, but I’ve gotten to see another side of her – as a songwriter – with the release this spring of her first solo album, “Atlas.”

The first single, “Painted Lady,” dropped in March, and the album release party, which by all accounts was a show of epic proportions, happened on May 7 at Portland House of Music.

I’ve been obsessing over the “Atlas” title track because the pristine layered vocals sound like a gathering of angels despite the fact that Alibrio is walking through the ruins of a relationship in the song. In fact, these ruins are explored on several tracks. But there’s no sense of self-pity and rather an unfiltered recollection of what went wrong with plenty of blame to go around.

Delivered with Alibrio’s indomitable vocals, facets of loss take center stage on an album that straight-up can’t be categorized into any specific genre. “Boxcar” and “Warehouses”  have an indie-folk-rock feel, while “Control” is a funky jam with organ played by Tyler Quist and Alibrio’s Wurlitzer prominently featured, along with backing vocals from Jenna Guiggey and Susanne Gerry. “Canary” rocks and “Painted Lady” expands and contracts with an R&B flavor.

I was so flummoxed with how to describe “Atlas” that I went directly to the source during an interview and put Alibrio on the spot. She didn’t flinch. “I would say it’s a theatrical songwriter pop.” That works for me.

Now, for a little Alibrio 101.

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Alibrio grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and has been playing piano since childhood. She graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a BFA in musical theater, and it was as a student that she started writing songs.

After graduation she lived mostly in Boston, save for a few years in Seattle, where she provided backing vocals for a handful of rock and cover bands while also performing her own shows.

About 11 years ago, Alibrio put out an EP, which is no longer available. “Atlas” is her first full-length album, and all 11 tracks were written or co-written by her.

Alibrio moved to Portland seven years ago. Feeling stagnant in Boston, she was offered and accepted a position at the Midcoast School of Music in Portland where she taught voice for four years. Her roommate at the time was Dan Boyden who plays drums in her band Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew. Boyden, after hearing her practicing for the shows she was still doing in Boston, suggested she come sing with his funk band Model Airplane. It was around that time that their lead singer, Lyle Divinsky, was recruited by Colorado-based The Motet, and the rest is indeed rock and roll history as Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew emerged.

Speaking of which, Gina & The Red Eye Flight Crew’s Monday night residency at Portland House of Music starts next week and continues through October. You’d be surprised how well attended these shows are. They kick off each week at 8:30 p.m.

Cover of the Gina Alibrio album “Atlas.” Design by Sam Burnell

Getting back to “Atlas,” I asked Alibrio to spill the beans on a few specific tracks including “Pretty Girls.” The song opens with a man with a Scottish accent speaking about how the future is malleable and that we’re all capable of “screwing up a perfect situation.” What the what? Alibrio explained that, while spending most of the pandemic alone, she got obsessed with watching tarot readings which is where the clip came from.

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After the intro, the song is full steam ahead with funky keys and Alibrio’s sumptuous voice on lines like, “I’m sorry the pretty girls don’t want to hear your songs/But they want to.” Alibrio says the song was written for a writer and artist friend with whom she had a deep platonic friendship. Despite being quite good looking, he struggled with relationships. “He was always so disappointed that these beautiful women would be very interested in him but didn’t want to listen to his music or didn’t give him the space to deal with his depression.”

“Atlas” ends with a song that packs the biggest emotional punch of the record. “Warehouses” features Alibrio on Wurlitzer (electric piano), Joseph Pierog on acoustic guitar, Nick Phaneuf on electric guitar and Devon Colella on cello. Like a slowly burning candle, the tender track shimmers with the lines, “In warehouses, in empty halls/On fire escapes with the ghost of my best friend/Tonight instead I think I’ll hide under someone else’s darker side.”

Alibrio said she spent a few months living and working on “Atlas” in a warehouse in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. This was right before and then during the early days of the pandemic, and Alibrio said the song is a eulogy of sorts to the the time of her life being fancy free right before COVID hit.

It’s also an homage to close friends she’s lost in recent years, namely Adam Paladino and Matthew Harker to whom “Atlas” is dedicated. She and Paladino would spend hours on the warehouse’s fire escape talking. Alibrio was also coming to terms with the imminent demise of a relationship while navigating, as we all were, the world coming close to a stop for much of 2020. “Warehouses” takes stock of everything happening in her life at the time and, as Alibrio put it, is also “putting it to death and giving it a funeral.”

And as for why she called the album “Atlas,” Alibrio explained that the inspiration came from thinking about the only gift one of her exes ever bought her which was was a road atlas of Maine, marked with the remote camp sites they used to visit. “The irony was that I had a roadmap to anywhere I wanted to go and that was the one thing I had left of this person,” she said.

Alibrio said the whole album is about different places and different familiarities and the idea of things feeling ghostly or not the same when you go back to them. The concept of sensory memories from different places is also woven through the songs. “That’s why I think ‘Atlas’ worked for the whole thing, it’s like pinpoints of different places,” she said.

You can purchase “Atlas” on Bandcamp (ginaalibrio.bandcamp.com/releases) and follow her on Instagram (instagram.com/gina_alibrio_vox ) for upcoming show details. Alibrio hopes to have physical copies of “Atlas” available soon at Bull Moose locations.


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