Album Review: Ali Handal – That’s What She Said

Album Review of Ali Handal: That’s What She Said (Red Parlor Records)

One of the best guitarists you’ve (probably) never heard of. That’s Ali Handal. Not sure? Ask her to play some Zeppelin for you. She’ll rock it on an acoustic better than most axewielders will do with an electric, as I witnessed at a house concert two years ago. And sure, That’s What She Said showcases some of that, but only within the context of driving a song; that’s right, it’s a rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter release that’s more about her songwriting chops and delivery than her jaw-dropping guitar skills.

Ali Handal - That's What She Said album cover

image courtesy of Red Parlor Records

That’s What She Said is a collection of songs serving up attitude and wisdom, starting with the album-opening “You Get What You Settle For,” a song that’s musically a bluesy rock riff and lyrically an anthem imploring women not to sell themselves short. And, of course, with a singalong-worthy “whoa-oh-oh,” it sets an energetic tone for the disc.

Song two, “Smoke More Pot,” is a very Sheryl Crow-ish tune, a funky-rocker with lyrics sarcastically lamenting having done things the right way: “I should’ve smoked more pot, dropped out of high school, joined an all-girl band, broken all my mom’s rules. I could’ve been someone by now.” The musical hook here is a subtle, repeated jangle, but it helps make the music as memorable as the lyrics. A recurring theme on this disc, by the way.

After rockin’ “The World Don’t Owe You a Thing,” Ali follows with guitar and organ rock-flavored mid-tempo (and multi-tempo) “Let Go,” an autobiographical tune about how her cancer battle shaped her approach to life for the better.

Then comes a turn away from songs with lessons, though I’d suggest there is a lesson in how to live on the fun, jazzy-bluesy-rockin’ “I Love My Pussy.Cat.” Not the double entendre-filled romp you might expect; just a song about Ali’s love for her kitty-cat. And a few spots where you can – nay, must – meow along.

Next up, turn on the lava lamp for a psychedelic, mellow rocker, Ali’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.” That’s followed with folk-structured, guitar and organ rock-styled, uplifting “Enough For Me,” featuring the lyrics “What if I let it go, what if I say it’s so, what if I am enough for me, I’m enough for me.” Stuart Smalley’s new mantra, perhaps.

That’s followed with a slinky, sexy musical entrée in the next number – something from a dimly lit joint where a stand-up bass player is a permanent fixture on the front left corner of the stage – only to be confronted with some unjazzy lyrics in the clever, lighthearted “Thank God for Birth Control.” (I just checked the songwriting credits; why am I not surprised Eric Schwartz was involved?)

Ali Handal

photo courtesy of Red Parlor Records

Another powerful song follows, Ali’s other cover on the album, Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl.” The song is on-point with the album’s feel and theme, and Ali delivers it in her own style, making it very much an Ali Handal tune.

Back to the superficiality of success theme first touched upon in “Smoke More Pot” (or in that neighborhood, at least), and a good track to follow “Not a Pretty Girl,” “Everybody’s So Naked” is a funky, fun number sporting lyrics like “Everybody’s so naked. It’s a race to the bottom. Everybody thinks they’ve gotta show ’em if they’ve got ’em. Naked. I don’t wanna play your way.” Yep. Self-esteem and talent championed in a clever, rhythmically super-catchy song.

“Better Man” delivers another self-esteem message – clearly a That’s What She Said theme – with a haunting, smoky old west ghost town guitar vibe and an edge in the vocal delivery the belies its insistently uplifting tone.

And what better way to close an album by drifting away softly, nodding off to “Last Lullaby.”

With that ends a collection of memorable music from a world-class guitarist, singer, and songwriter. A disc with plenty of earworm-caliber hooks and memorable lyrics that are dependably one or more of three things – insightful, clever, and deeply moving. If you haven’t heard it yet, you owe yourself to remedy that.

More About Ali

If you’d like to read more about Ali, there are song great interviews online, like this one at Guitar World and this one at Guitar Girl Magazine. For young women trying to make it in the music world – and in life – she can be an inspiring role model, and for musicians she’s an example of how much support you’ll get when you’re super-talented but kind, work well with others, and do things the right way. But I didn’t dig into any of that in this review so I could focus more one how her talent, musicianship, and songwriting simply rawk!

Now, to avoid distracting from her original music style, I tried to avoid mentioning this at the top of the review as evidence of Ali’s guitarslinger street cred, but you can sometimes also catch her as lead axe for a group she joined just within the past year or so (if memory serves), filling Joe Perry’s role in Aerosmith tribute band RagDolls.

Looking Ahead

When things return to normal, next time Ali hits the road, you’ll be able to find info about her shows here, on the “Tour” page of her website.

In the meantime, Ali has been producing a “Quarantine Series” of videos you can find on YouTube.

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