First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2006, Volume 13, #6
Written by John Metzger
Kris Delmhorst’s previous effort Songs for a Hurricane was a loosely-knit concept album about relationships that was inspired, at least in part, by Neil Young’s classic tune Like a Hurricane. Turning decidedly more cerebral in her approach, Delmhorst based her latest project Strange Conversation around the works of poets, such as Walt Whitman, John Masefield, and Jalaluddin Rumi. Serving as the centerpiece of the set are a pair of compositions (The Drop & the Dream and the title track) that Delmhorst wrote in response to Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil. The rest of the outing is comprised of poems that either were given melodies (Lord Byron’s We’ll Go No More A-Roving) or were adapted to fit within a music-oriented framework (Robert Browning’s A Toccata of Galuppi’s).
One might assume that such an academically minded collection would exude an air of stodgy self-indulgence, but throughout Strange Conversation, Delmhorst deftly transforms the arty affair into a moving and easily accessible vehicle for her intellectual pursuits. Using the metrical flow of each poem as a guide, she constructed arrangements that are suited perfectly to bringing the words to life. For example, a sad air of death and mourning hovers over the quiet reflection of The Drop & the Dream, while e.e. cummings’ Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town is interpreted as a playful, country-imbued square dance. Elsewhere, Robert Herrick’s The Scare-Fire is bent into the dirty, blues-inflected Water Water; James Weldon Johnson’s Sence You Went Away is given a delicate touch that captures its sense of world-weary yearning; and George Eliot’s O May I Join the Choir Invisible is refurbished as a New Orleans funeral march. In effect, Delmhorst delivers the material in such an organic fashion that Strange Conversation sufficiently stands of its own accord, outside of its roots in literature. ½
Strange Conversation is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box