This review is somewhat difficult to write. On the one hand, I want to share with you some of the most interesting, satisfying, creative, touching, deep, and uniquerecords I’ve heard in quite a long time. And yet, in my own failing, I keep grasping to find familiar comparisons to refer to and that isn’t fair – at all – to Shara Worden and My Brightest Diamond (MBD), and this really astonishingly well-crafted record. So let me get my self-indulgent shit out of the way up front because it is going to bug me the whole time if i don’t unload it here, where you can dismiss it more easily and move on, with me, to fairer and less-unbalanced matters:
<fnord>Imagine the love child of Joni Mitchell, Django Rhinehardt, Peter Gabriel, Van Dyke Parks, Tom Waits, Roger Waters, Kate Bush, Frente (only barely, and really just on one cut), Cesaria Evora -and- Edith Piaf. Imagine an orgy of perfect restraint, imagine every brushstroke intended and purposeful, imagine every hair perfectly in place. I know I’m being very self-indulgent here, and it sounds like a lot of nonsense – I know – and yet as I listened through this record to find something familiar to hold on to, I kept having momentary flashes of these artists and those abstractions.
The instrumentation on this record is ambitious, like Sun-Ra ambitious:
- Clarinet & Bass Clarinet
- Pump Organ
- “Prepared Piano”
- Roland RS-09
- Roland Jupiter-8
- Percussion (various)
- Synth Bass
- Fireball (?)
- Mbira (thumb piano)
You’d be right if you guessed that this is a fairly chaotic collection of instruments and, of course, they’re all not being played together on every track. But this chaotic collection of instruments is brought together with an effortless and organic beauty such that you’d never think of picking anything out in particular and saying to yourself, “Hey! Did I just hear an Mbira?” – every element has its place in a perfectly constructed musical world created by the supreme artistry and deep soul of Shara Worden and her unreasonably talented troupe. As with My Brightest Diamond’s first record, “A Thousand Sharks Teeth,” this record is recorded impeccably. In fact, perhaps even better than ATST, as it seems to present the group in a far more natural setting and less restrained (or so it seems) by dynamic compression.
The music really does run the gamut, stylistically-speaking. This is no ZZ-Top record (not that I think of them as the poster boys for sameness from track to track, but maybe just a little bit – and not pejoratively). The record opens with a single, Hot-Club-like guitar vamp on “We Added It Up” and then suddenly blossoms into the lovely, quirky, almost Kurt Weill-inspired colors as piccolo, clarinet, bass, violin, trumpet, vibes, wurlitzer organ, and who knows what else begin to play back and forth across the stage – Shara’s voice delicately anchoring the whole carnival, heliocentrically. “Fusion makes the world go round, Confusion with the making of all that sound, Oh I hear a quieter voice, It says ‘Love binds the world, Love binds the world forever and ever.” – the music paints the colors that the lyric outlines and makes the sentiment palpable and present.
And then we move on to a considerably less jocular “Reaching Through to the Other Side” – droning bass line, echoing drum line, instrumentation once again varied and artfully restrained. Here MBD indulge in a short, deep examination of the perfection of the imperfection of life. “Oh how gorgeous to struggle now, to struggle now in time” – a small narrative on the beauty of the spirit passing into flesh for struggle and growth and truth-seeking.
The record moves from the deep and introspective to the frolicking, to socio-political commentary, to the heartfelt personal. The music and the lyrics and the sheer, unimpeachable and MONSTROUSLY intimidating artistry, and perfectly composed sound-as-cinema recording immerses the listener into an interior world of quite delicate and (perhaps not entirely) fragile beauty. There’s no way for me to categorize, compartmentalize, symbolize, emblem, or otherwise cause anything familiar to be brought to bear in any meaningful way that would encapsulate this almost infinitely-faceted work of art. I’ve listened to it near 20+ times already, each time getting something more out of it or working myself more deeply into it … and as I reflect on those opening indulgences, I can still imagine a growing list of contributing genomes … and that is pointless. Once I got past the first handful of many handfuls, I realized that the task was impossible. Shara Worden and MBD belong, simply, to a kingdom of their own.
I leave you with the attached video of Shara performing ”She Does Not Brave the War (But She Saves the Day)” – one of the more deeply personal cuts on the record.