Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Review: Reunion - Julie Silver

reunion CD cover

What do an old wicker chair, St. Patrick, Carole King, a Hollywood score writer and Torah have in common, and what are they doing together on a contemporary Jewish album? Leave it to Julie Silver to bring these disparate elements and more together in a musically stunning and aurally beautiful new album - Reunion. It has been far too long since we've had a new project from Julie. It was worth the wait. Reunion is the work of a mature, sophisticated, experienced artist, yet retains the spirit of the seeker that characterizes much of Julie's earlier work. Julie has always been a gifted songwriter, her words expressing the angst, peace, uncertainty, commitment, confusion, clarity, insecurity, pride and more that we all have in our lives. In Reunion, Julie's ability to turn everyday life situations and experiences into spiritual encounters imbued with teachings and meanings has achieved a new level of artistry and skill.

The album begins with the infectious "Step by Step." It's the perfect way to start this brave walk into the water that is "Reunion."

Songs like "The Barefoot Sisters" challenge us to come to terms with who we are, and teach us the lesson of Yitro - that we can and should learn from those outside our little circle. Her cover of Carole King's "Been to Canaan" aptly demonstrates that expressions that touch our Jewish souls can come from anywhere. In "Monica's Chair" Julie sings lovingly of the healing and comforting power of memory.

In "Where Am I?" Julie questions the often exclusionary content of our sacred texts, in this particular case, citing parashat Matot holding males accountable for vows yet relegating responsibility for women's vows to their fathers of husbands. May it be that her question does not fall on deaf ears.

There is no shortage of liturgical content. First, there's a song written many years ago that has found its way into regular use at many services, the inspiring "O Guide My Steps." This song has a special place in my heart, as I was there when it was created by (now Cantor) Debra Winston with contribution of a Hebrew lyric counter-melody by Julie. I know the emotion behind the initial genesis of song, and it still brings tears to my eyes. It's nice to hear a recording of the song by Julie, whose voice is perfectly matched with that of Rabbi Joe Black in this emotional duet. Oddly, this arrangement is light on the Hebrew counter-melody, spending most of its time on the English verses. Humility, perhaps?

There's a beautiful, melodic, peaceful and somewhat hypnotic setting of the healing prayer "R'faeinu" Julie graces us with a new setting based on the Y'hiyu l'ratzon/May the words entitled "Meditation" that is plaintively simple and hauntingly beautiful. No masks or technical tricks separate us from the outpourings of Julie's heart in this song, which allows her natural voice and natural vibrato to be heard. It's nice to see an artist willing to take that risk. This is generally true for most of the songs on this album - we get "natural" Julie. So many times, what you get in a live performance disappoints compared to a recording. Not so in Julie's case, and in particular on this album.  Close your eyes when listening to "Reunion"and it will really be like hearing her live.

Julie also includes four songs  written by the talented Hollywood composer David Kates. "Circles" explores the cycles in our lives, and dealing with loss and finding continuity.  in  "Lead the Way" expresses the hope of every parent and teacher for the children. There's also a gorgeous setting of "Dodi Li." The album closes with David Kates' joyful, spirited setting of "Halleluyah (Psalm 150.)" Like any good project should do, this final song leaves you wanting more. We're waiting, Julie!

There are those who might object to a Jewish album having seemingly tangential, even secular songs included. I'm not one of those. Judaism is not just a religion or culture. It is a way of thinking, living, doing, being. All our life experiences, from the quotidian to the awesome are in conversation with and informed by and inform our understanding of Judaism. Julie's songs are the authentic expression of that process, and we are all richer for her sharing that with us in her music.

Reunion is available from Soundswrite/URJ Books & Music

Julie Silver’s website is www.juliesilver.com

Julie’s FaceBook page www.facebook.com/people/Julie-Silver//1071015337

Julie’s Twitter Page www.twitter.com/julieannsilver

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