Chris Connelly captures Nico's good side on a sprawling new tribute … – Chicago Reader

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Chicago singer-songwriter Chris Connelly regularly releases an album of new material on his November birthday. For his latest record, Eulogy to Christa: A Tribute to the Music and Mystique of Nico, he hit that annual deadline with the digital version on Bandcamp, but the physical edition (a deluxe double CD) didn’t ship till early December. Connelly originally planned the project to be a covers album of songs by Nico, the German model, singer, and composer (born Christa Päffgen in 1938) who’s best known, albeit unjustly, for her brief stint fronting the Velvet Underground in 1966 and ’67. But Connelly was inspired instead to write a song cycle based on Nico’s life after reading You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, a 2021 Nico biography by rock historian Jennifer Otter Bickerdike (who titled the book after a lyric from Nico’s “Alone” and contributed liner notes to the CD version of the album). The subjects he addresses include the teenage Nico’s claim that she was raped by a U.S. air force sergeant, her impressive roster of love affairs, and her struggles to be taken seriously as an artist. 
Thirteen tracks on Eulogy to Christa are by Connelly, while eight are at least in part by Nico. Connelly is particularly well-suited to take on this material. His David Bowie tribute project, Sons of the Silent Age, has included guest stars portraying Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and other key figures of the late-60s and early 70s proto-punk scene. Reed is a character in Eulogy for Christa too, and he’s not always cast in a favorable light. “Andy, Incidentally” and “Union Square West” evoke the Velvet Underground, and “A Slow Jones in New York” emphasizes Reed’s cruelty, like a dark mirror of Reed and John Cale’s 1990 record Songs for Drella with 90 percent less hagiography. But Connelly’s take on Nico is hagiographic in its own way—most notably, it glosses over her history of racism, including an alleged violent attack on a Black woman at the Chelsea Hotel in the early 70s. 
Connelly’s greatest strength here lies in how he handles the traumas that informed Nico’s life. “I Cannot Care for You” is about parental absence, including the death of her father, the illness of her mother, and her own yearslong struggle to play a role in raising her son, Ari, who was never acknowledged by his father, French actor Alain Delon (though he was mostly raised by Delon’s parents). Other tracks touch on Nico’s struggles with addiction and poverty: “80s Beat Boys” is a melancholy snapshot from her Brixton period that’s evocative of her fight to survive, while “The Black Rooms of Richelieu” is a dark, hallucinatory tale of drug-fueled desperation in Paris.
Connelly’s stylistic shifts between episodes and personae are masterful, but what really makes this album outstanding is the kindness, even tenderness, that he shows his subject. The album’s compassion comes through especially strongly when it touches on her later career and the life she’d tried to build in Brixton and Manchester before her untimely (and likely preventable) 1988 death due to a brain hemorrhage caused by a cycling accident. “Fa Massa Calor” (“It’s Too Hot”), for instance, foreshadows the extreme heat of the day, which may have played a role in her demise. But perhaps Connelly’s greatest tributes to Nico are his many covers of her haunting, distinctive songs (“Frozen Warnings,” “The Falconer,” and “Valley of the Kings” are standouts), which underscore why her work remains vital decades after her death.
Chris Connelly’s Eulogy to Christa (A Tribute to the Music and Mystique of Nico) is available through Bandcamp.
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