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A celebrated singer/songwriter whose soothing voice has entranced millions of listeners, or a zany goddess whose Hollywood Hills realm is a riot of ersatz zebra skin, lava lamps, troll dolls and tiki treasures? With her newest release, both sides of Lauren Wood’s Gemini soul are given their fair due. An advisory warning on the CD says it best. “The artwork on this package does not in any way reflect the music that’s inside. Also….there’s one swear word.” The eye-popping cover and the lone foul utterance notwithstanding, compassionate songcraft is clearly the winner.

“I have a million interests,” Wood says, “from rescuing animals to collecting bad art. All things I need to get done are all the same to me. Should I water the rhododendrons?...or get a distribution deal? I'll hesitate. What do I do first?” Fortunately, what she does first is write songs, and occasionally, release them. Having already recorded two previous albums with identical, eponymous titles, she named her newest release Love, Death & Customer Service to denote a life-altering catharsis. “Love” came from the collapse of a 13-year relationship and the subsequent founding of a new one. “Death” came from the loss of her father, friends, family members and a beloved pet. While the first two terms are self-explanatory, customer service may be her most vexing issue. “It's a reflection of the universe – having to deal with endless automation before reaching a person who is indifferent – it makes me insane,” she laughs.

Wood opens her new CD with “Contradictions,” a confiding track that spotlights her signature vocals. Among the highlights is the invitingly quirky “Come and Live With Me,” wherein the songstress offers sunsets, color coordination and, one suspects, other delights, and an interpretation of the Zombies classic, “Time of the Season.” The CD concludes with an ambitious opus, “Walk Toward the Light,” a revelatory look at the cycle of time. “I tried to record the death experience and the transition: the sadness and the celebration that happens when you celebrate a person’s life. I hope there’s life after death; I love so many people who have gone.” Clocking in at almost eight minutes, it’s an upbeat revelry, complete with gospel choir and a fadeout in quasi-military cadence.

The list of collaborators on Love, Death & Customer Service is testimony to Wood's enduring personal and professional relationships; co-writers like Melissa Manchester, Jenny Yates, Randy Edelman, and Allee Willis ( The Color Purple ) plus musical cohorts including Little Feat's Billy Payne, Stephen Bishop, Jeff Hull (“Piano in the Dark”), The Tonight Show band's Vickie Randle and Wood's cousin and longtime musical compatriot, viola virtuoso Novi Novog.

Wood enjoys a career of extraordinary diversity, having recorded with artists like Frank Zappa and Michael McDonald, to writing songs for everyone from Cher to Sammy Hagar to Gladys Knight; adding her voice to network themes for Just Shoot Me and commercials for Nike, Budweiser and Nintendo and penning songs for feature films like Police Academy and daytime drama Days of Our Lives. In between she’s appeared on television shows, voiced characters for animation and even founded a greeting card company, “Cat Tricks,” featuring pictures of her cats. (“My animals have more clothes than I do,” she says.) And then there is “Fallen,” a song written and performed on the 18-million selling soundtrack for the film Pretty Woman. “I’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails from people who tell me the song has gotten them through catastrophic accidents, illnesses; stories from around the world how that song has pulled them through. Or couples that have made it ‘their song’, it was the first dance at their wedding or they’ve named their kids after me because they were listening to that song when they were conceived.”

In Pittsburgh, where she grew up, her father owned the region’s largest pet emporium (“How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” was written about her father’s pet shop) and her mother encouraged her daughter’s zany individuality. “She never taught me anything I did was weird. ‘Oh, that’s so great Cookie-Face - I love that.’ I’d have bright red hair and she’d help me dye it.” Lauren’s legacy still reflects the outlandish girl who grew up at the juncture of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. “As a little kid I was different, fat and teased. There was still a duality even then. I would go from being a complete outcast to being the most popular kid. When I was younger I was so shy I couldn’t speak to express myself. That’s one of the reasons I became a songwriter. I don’t write as much now because it’s easier for me to communicate verbally, but still, where my music comes from is the deepest part of me.”

With Love, Death & Customer Service, all lines are open.

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