Thursday, August 8, 2013

"A Beauty So Glorious And Strange"

In January of 2012, I was woefully unaware of Lorraine Feather and her music; then, "Tales of the Unusual" crossed my desk and my life changed...for the better. I dug into her website - - discovered all the recordings released under her name since the turn of the 21st Century, found the lyrics written to melodies by Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, heard her work with the great pianist Dick Hyman.  I soon realized she was one of the few contemporary songwriters whose songs made me think and laugh the way Stephen Sondheim, Paul Simon (at times), Randy Newman (but not as caustic), Richard Thompson, Rebecca Martin and few others can.  Ms. Feather can be "girly" and she's certainly "one of the boys."

"Attachments" is her new recording for Jazzed Media;  it follows in the pattern of her last 3 releases ("Language", "Ages" and "ToTU") in that Ms. Feather writes with 3 or 4 different musicians (in this instance, all pianists but one ), adding lyrics to their music.  She has wonderful writing relationships with Dave Grusin, Shelly Berg, Russell Ferrante and guitarist Eddie Arkin, recording several songs composed by them as well as adding lyrics to a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach and Joey Calderazzo (using his "La Valse Kendall" to produce "We Have The Stars.") Like an actress in a one-person play, she's not afraid to break down the "4th Wall", talking to her audience as if in a conversation over lunch.  It's used to great effect on "I Love You Guys", her Valentine to the musicians she has worked and does work with - she attempts to define for the listener what the drummer's 7-stroke roll is and ends by saying "I kind of explain it in the booklet."

Overall, there are more somber tunes on "Attachments" than on any of the earlier recordings.  The mood is set right from the start, with Charlie Bisharrat's solo violin intro to "A Little Like This." One can hear the longing, the loss, the release that defines the music on the CD in his 65-second overture.  The lyrics that decorate the expansive melody that Russell Ferrante creates speaks to a long-term relationship that has its moments of intensity and moments of separation when no one actually leaves ("Sometimes there's a kiss with no longing/ Sometimes there's a longing but no kiss.")   The rhythm section of Ferrante, bassist Michael Valerio, drummer Michael Shapiro, percussionist (and husband) Tony Morales plus guitarist Grant Geissman and Bisharrat really move the piece along. The title track has the feel of Brazilian music with a nod to "Aja"-era Steely Dan.  Bisharrat appears on 7 of the cuts and often, he is the second "voice", the counterpoint to the lead vocal but, on the title tracks, it's Ferrante's splendid piano solo that stands out.

On the upbeat side, pianist Grusin asked Ms. Feather to write lyrics to the instrumental he composed for "The Firm." "Memphis Stomp" becomes "I Thought You Did"; the composer's left hand work is utterly irresistible, as much Harold Mabern and Memphis Slim as anyone else.  Grusin plays with such great fluidity and to have Ms. Feather vocally dancing over, under and around him is a true delight. The final track, "True", came about because the pianist was playing Bach's "Air on a G String" and suggested Ms. Feather create lyrics for the melody. After the introduction of piano and violin, the vocal enters on the word "true" held out over the accompaniment.  The violin provides the counterpoint, the piano supports the vocal as well as providing the forward motion and, like the opening track, the lyrics speak of a relationship that waxes and wanes but never collapses.

"The Veil", with music and piano accompaniment by Shelly Berg, is a ballad in which Ms. Feather sings about her mother.  While it is quite personal (following her parent as she moves into dementia), those people who have watched a mother and/or father "disappear" before their eyes well know the situation that the singer is relating.  It is one of several songs in the program that details a relationship that fades with time but "The Veil" is, ultimately, the most devastating (because it's the most personal.)

"Attachments" is not a gloomy recording but touches many sides of one's soul. There is joy in making music, there is release in working through personal issues by putting them in the open, thereby making them universal. Yes, many of these lyrics are serious and demand scrutiny but make sure to listen to the musicians and how they relate to the melodies.  Make sure to pay attention to Ms. Feather's voice, how she inhabits the lyrics, the graceful harmonies, the infectious out-going manner in which she slides through songs such as "159" (a song about "groove") and the honest and moving emotion of "Anna Lee."

People who know I write about music and host radio shows that are filled with music often ask "Why is this so important to me?"  One can be surrounded with music and not hear a thing but, for me, music, recorded and, even moreso, live, helps me to find into and through my everyday life.  I could listen to Dave Grusin's piano line on "I Thought You Did" a dozen times in a row and not get tired.  "The Goldberg Variations", Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied", "Steppin" by the World Saxophone Quartet, Wadada Leo Smith's "10 Freedom Summers", John Lennon's "Julia" - I could fill this column and more about music that disrupts and moves my soul.  "Attachments", this wonderful addition to my existence by Lorraine Feather, is powerful, satisfying, sad, joyful, an emotional examination of special events and everyday life, and is music you should hear.  It may not move you as it does me but, then again.....

For more information go to  I had a pleasant chat with Ms. Feather that I will be playing this Sunday (8/11/13) at 11 a.m. (EDT) on WLIS-AM1420, WMRD-AM1150 and online at It will be archived on the station's website (specifically, the "On-Demand" section) for 30 days and, depending on the length, I might just post it on the blog.

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