By Brian Arsenault
The following albums and their artists couldn’t be more different. That’s part of the fun. It’s a wide musical world with all kinds of room or, in the broad thinker Jesus’ terms, “there are many rooms in my Father’s house.” In this case I think it would have to be Mother’s house, though. This will become clear below. Or maybe not.
The Gift (ECM Records)
The great strength of this album of sung poetry, mostly from Emily Dickenson, is that gifted Swiss-Dutch singer Susanne Abbuehl lets the rhythm, the music if you will, of the words set the songs. It may also be the album’s great weakness, if it has one, because in its own terms it is beautiful throughout.
The whole feel of The Gift is gentle like Dickinson and the two other featured poets, Emily Bronte and Sara Teasdale, three giants of poetry a century and a half ago. Gentle but not soft or saccharine, also like Dickinson, and like Abbuehl’s wondrous voice.
Sometimes Abbuehl’s voice is more spoken than sung but then she finds a melody and the poetry becomes so seductive (in a nonsalacious way, of course, it’s Dickinson remember).
Dickinson saw infinity in a clover. She wasn’t wrong. Abbuehl and her understated band are true to that minimalism.
Matthieu Michael’s flugelhorn is the other star of the album, even taking the lead at times and always with the right tonality for Abbuehl’s voice. Wolfert Bederode provides marvelous accompaniment on piano and Olavi Louhivuori’s percussion is a match for the musicianship of the others.
Matching poetry and music is as old as the individual forms. In the earliest days, there probably wasn’t any difference. It is said that the Odyssey was sung by blind Homer as he journeyed from royal house to royal house.
Still, it is here that I think Abbuehl and crew could have pushed the form a bit harder.
On “By Day, By Night,” a Teasdale poem, I grew excited as the music almost takes off. Let it go, Sue (may I call you Sue?) I muttered. But they didn’t. Not quite. Not here or anywhere on the album. She is always the cultured Susanne.
With a bit more jazz, the combo might have shaped the words in new and different forms with the music. But here it was always the other way round, perhaps out of respect for the poetry. But I can’t help but wonder if they would have found/created new meaning.
That may yet remain to be done. Yet we are left with something fine in an increasingly crude world.
bree (Werewolf Tunes)
To paraphrase, Pete Townshend is reported to have once said that Keith Moon wasn’t a rock drummer, he was rock in the flesh. While I certainly hope she lasts a lot longer than Moony, there is something of that in bree on her self titled album. The Nashville rocker doesn’t seem so much to play the music form as to explode out of it.
She says she isn’t retro and I’ll take her at her word. But this is rock as it should be; stripped down — “watch me rip my clothes off” — rolling, bouncing, roadhouse, r&b rooted, Joplin polished, stay up all night stuff.
A little power trio led by bree’s singing and Gibson Flying V guitar. Stand up bass and pounding drums complete the picture.
As always when the music is special, Boones the Cat came in the room and stared at me. Who’s this? She wanted to know. Someone who could become a legend, I replied. Boones stayed until the album was over and then went into the next room and napped. Nothing more to hear.
But while the music played, they could probably hear it all the way to the religious commune where she was abused property until being kicked out at 17 for having a boyfriend. Probably another one of those communes where the old guys want all the young stuff for themselves. When are we gonna castrate those creeps or at least close them down?
Somehow bree kept self and soul alive to rock n roll and “not have time to be saved.”
There’s another Who connection, the guys who “don’t need to be forgiven.” She’s clearly been to the streets. “When you don’t drink whisky, you’re cold . . . You can’t resist me when you drink . . .” Those are hard rock lyrics; out there, real, raw.
She gives new maybe truer meaning to “All American Girl” who wants to “Dance All Nite (With my finger in the air). She’s tough but not mean, she’s seen enough of that. You just have to “love me the way I am.” I do.
She’s a real rocker in another overproduced era of pop music. This is who Jagger should jam with while on tour, not the manufactured pre-packaged Katy Perry.
* * *
Interestingly, both these albums have a piece entitled “Forbidden Fruit.” bree’s is very different from Abbuehl’s/Dickinson’s — but maybe not . . .
* * * * * * * *
To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.