Kala Farnham sets the tone of her first full-length studio album with its opening track Naked Honest.
A rolling piano figure opens up into her familiar classically-tinged playing that underpins an arresting melody. It’s all propelled by Farnham’s impassioned and proficient voice that carries through to a soaring chorus.
The tune is one Farnham released on a live EP from 2009 but this arrangement is fleshed out with a small but full-sounding ensemble as opposed to a solo outing. The track as well as all of the album’s tracks are treated this way and they all benefit from what is really a new production approach from the Connecticut singer-songwriter. The arrangement even includes some tasty guitar playing leading into the bridge, somewhat of a departure compared with her previous recordings.
The group includes: Duke Levine (guitar/mandola); Daisy Castro (fiddle/cello), Richard Gates (bass), and Marty Wirt (percussion/drums).
Anahata: Wake Up Your Heart is filled with new and older inspiring compositions by Farnham like that opening track. One of the most ambitious Niantic Bay has an almost epic feel to it similar to some of her past songs, but again is fully developed with background vocals, creative percussion and a wonderful sense of dynamics that runs throughout.
Her voice so easily transitions from full-bodied to delicate falsetto with a sparkling top end on this tune and others such as the staccato-driven, pop-oriented title track.
Farnham treads much new ground here in her approach even to her older tunes. Songbird, which first appeared on the Naked Honest Live EP has a contemporary jazz-waltz feel, straight from the ’60s. The jaunty Singin’ Along’s (Sparrow’s Song) dance hall feel in 2/4 further shows off Farnham’s versatility. Complemented by fiddle, the track illustrates a lighter and refreshing side to her compositions.
But one of the most surprising and pleasing tracks is her take on the classic traditional song House Of The Rising Son, the only cover on the album. She shows she’s fully capable of interpreting the blues though her own song styling and presents one of the most impressive recent versions of this well-worn staple that came to the public’s attention back in the early ’60s via Dylan and the powerhouse arrangement of The Animals.
The track also shows off Farnham’s voice perhaps better than any other with her soaring interpretation of the familiar lyrics. Never harsh always heartfelt, smooth and riding on top of the melody Farnham’s vocals throughout the album are in many ways the main attraction, holding the listener fixed by the music and lyrical content.
All her songs are infused with poignant and penetrating word play. The rushing Pencil and Ink weaves a story of love and love lost through the writing of a song. All this adorning a beautifully conceived arrangement with perfectly complementing drums and violin.
The spiritually inflected Anam Caram and Maitri, a song of unconditional friendship and love, speak to the center of the album’s focus while bringing the work to its satisfying conclusion. Both are arranged in 3/4 and carry an enlightened perspective through Farnham’s singular talents as singer and piano player.
Other surprises and delights within range from the infectious chorus of By Your Side to Mon Cher and La Coupe’s French-English lyrical content to the powerful and impetuous Ruthless, again featuring guitar.
In all, a complete and accomplished first full-album for Farnham that shows so many more sides to her talents than previous live and EP collections. She has the songs, she has the voice and she has a perfectly conceived piano approach that helps meld all the elements of her talents together into style and substance truly her own.
Kala Farnham’s web site: www.kalafarnham.com
Anahata: Wake Up Your Heart at CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kalafarnham3
In the first half of the year, I’ve been listening to three CDs quite a bit, all beautifully executed but quite different from one another. They are easily three of the best records from the first six months of 2010 and three you should give a listen.
The Chieftains’ San Patricio gives a featured billing to Ry Cooder, an occasional collaborator with the Irish group who writes, plays, sings, produces and arranges on this unusual yet intriguing mix of Celtic and Mexican music based on a fictionalized version of the story of Irish soldiers fighting with the Mexican army.
San Patricio is somewhat reminiscent of Santiago, another Chieftains’ effort from 1996 on which they blended Celtic sensibilities with Galician music from northwest Spain.
The group showed the direct link between the two musical heritages while including collaborators Cooder, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos, among many others.
The music on San Patricio is joyous, celebratory, heartfelt, forboding and ultimately upbeat and forward moving. The highlights are many, including the opener La Iguana with sensuous vocalist Lila Downs, who also appears on El Relampago; Ronstadt’s tender La Orilla de Un Palmar; the Cooder compositions The Sands Of Mexico and Cancion Mixteca (Intro) along with the song proper by Jose Lopez Alavez; March To Battle (Across The Rio Grande), which features a narration by Liam Neeson; and traditional numbers that feature Los Folkloristas and Los Camperos deValles.
It’s all a rich tapestry of the blending of these two musical styles that share so much in common.
The Irish soldiers, led by Captain John Riley during the war with Mexico (1846-48) were discriminated against and treated brutally by the American troops. So much so they defected to join a people with whom they had much more in common.
Although the thread of story on this record is entirely fictitious, there is no doubt music must have been a big part of the Irish soldiers’ experience as it is imbued so deeply in both cultures. A wonderfully realized example of what we now call World Music but is simply an inspiring work under any title. (continue reading…)
A few weeks back on a Friday night, I randomly decided to take a ride over to Border’s in Meriden to browse the books and the store’s ever-shrinking CD collection.
From the moment I walked in I was struck by the sound of a young woman’s voice. She was set up in the cafe playing solo, accompanying herself on a Yamaha electric piano. As I walked around I kept being drawn to the woman’s accomplished classical-leaning playing and her smooth, proficient and captivating vocals.
Finally I walked to the back of the cafe, sat on the window ledge and listened to the rest of her set. The character of her voice was pleasing and compelling. And her songs were something else.
I was so impressed I bought Kala Farnham’s seven-song EP, Raincloud, and have been listening to it since. In some ways her music is a throwback to the singer/songwriter era of the early 1970s. Her classically-oriented playing reminds one briefly of Joni Mitchell, but the style, composition and melodic structure of her songs are clearly Farnham’s own.
At first the CD didn’t seem to quite capture the impact she made live for me. But after repeated listenings and growing more familiar with her material, the EP started making its mark. It proves a strong showcase for Farnham’s talents. (continue reading…)