First of all, in the interest of full disclosure – I must tell you that Michele is my sister. I am also a co-writer on one of the songs on this album, so my objectivity is limited. None of that is relevant. I am in awe of her artistic achievement.
I was adding the album to my digital music library, and when it came time to tag its genre, I was stumped. I sighed and typed in “eclectic”. Michele draws from such a wide spectrum of musical traditions that it is truly difficult to categorize her work. This will be a bit lengthy. I just couldn’t figure out which cuts to skip, so I have reviewed all of them.
Let’s start with the first track, “Aurora”. Unexpectedly, there is the sound of very delicate piano arpeggios, setting the mood for a musical retelling of Sleeping Beauty. In this version, the princess asks the prince if he will “sweep (her) up behind him and carry (her) away”. (The prince explains that he “only stole a kiss”—Sound familiar?) Already, we know this is not going exactly according to the Grimms brothers’ plan. The song ends on a note of triumph. Aurora reveals herself as a fully realized modern feminist – all within the framework of an enchanting, haunting folktale.
The second cut, “Heart On My Lips” is an understated, trance-like groove with a strong reference to middle-eastern music. The vocals have a sensual and seductive quality.
“Shirt Upon Her Back” is a paean to our immigrant grandparents (yes, this is the one we wrote together). We originally wrote it as a country song, but Michele added the dimension of a wild, Bartók-esque folk dance (a lot of credit goes to the brilliant Novi Novog on viola). The result is joyous and raucous.
“Old Love”, a waltz, was written with Amanda McBroom, who lends her lovely voice in a simple narrative of two people who find each other in the twilight of their lives. It is sweet and touching. (Get out your hanky).
“Love & Take Out” is the exact opposite. This song borrows heavily from the tradition of the great blues singers, especially Bessie Smith. It is filled with clever double-entendres. No need for a hanky.
“Once In Love” was written with John Bettis, and is a beautifully crafted country ballad, beautifully sung. The background vocals give just the right lift to the choruses. (Retrieve your hanky).
“In The Dark Silence” is a song so personal, so raw in its depiction of childhood loneliness, that it is hard to imagine the courage it would take to write it, let alone sing it with such naked emotionality.
“The Ballad Of Robin and Marian” is reminiscent of an old, medieval English folk song, which of course, is in keeping with the subject matter. But as in “Aurora”, we soon realize that this “Maid Marian” is not what legend depicts The rollicking tempo mimics the rhythm of hooves galloping into battle.
This is followed by a collaboration with Sheila Rae, “It’s Never Perfect”, an appreciation of love of the quiet and enduring kind found later in life, sung as a duet with Amanda McBroom.
“Erik and the Coyote” deals with the death of a beloved cat. It is sad, haunting and transcendent.
Michael Silversher co-wrote “Sailing On” and sings with Michele in this poignant ballad. Love appears, then disappears, and life must continue. The music and the lyrics are perfectly wedded, creating an atmospheric, trance-like experience.
Lastly, we come to “My Favorite Year”. Suffice to say that this is one of the all-time great love ballads. Others have sung this song, but none are so genuine in their rendition as the composer herself.
There is a recurring theme here of loss and redemption. You can listen with your ears and be well rewarded by the unerring musicality. But you can also listen with your heart and you will experience something much deeper. It’s a “five-hanky” album. In fact, just keep the Kleenex box next to you and give yourself a little time to recover before you go back out into the world.
To learn more about Michele and her work, please visit www.michelebrourman.com