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Monday, May 19, 2008

Lisa Cerbone: "We Were All Together"

After nearly a century of being exposed to Disney-esque stories of princes and princesses, we Americans know the drill.  Boy meets girl, boy cannot be with girl due to some insurmountable obstacle, boy tries anyway and miraculously succeeds, and they live happily ever after.  Even in modern music, most of the lyrical content is about the chase, the insufficiencies - basically everything leading up to that happily ever after.  So it's quite a surprise to hear about life after the "ever after," which is what Lisa Cerbone spends the majority of her time doing on We Were All Together, her fourth formal album.  It vividly depicts the simple moments of married life in such a blissful way, that it almost makes the fairy tale seem less worthy of our time.

Open the packaging to We Were All Together, and you'll find cards with lyrics on one side, and a photo on the other.  There's a woman standing on a hilltop, a bicycle, an angelic yard ornament, or a view of a cloudy day.  They all seem fairly insignificant, but the beauty of these images are inescapable.  The same can be said for the songs Cerbone sings on the album.  Each song literally feels like an insignificant moment, a snapshot, of everyday life.  The amazing thing is Lisa' ability to pull beauty out of these moments.  Her lyrics are, quite literally, poetry.  On "Close to the Battlefield" she sings, "You can't let yourself draw on clean canvas.  Just your sketches on scraps of paper.  Faces revealed through the darkness.  You believe they tell the truth about you."  Again, the "beauty from nothing" theme of the album is really reflected perfectly here.

Of course, I've never been a fan of poetry transcribed onto music, and unfortunately, it seems as if a lot of these songs were written first as poems, and then put to music.  The result is that the songs don't always flow as well as they should, with lyrics not rhyming or too many syllables crammed into a single line.  They don't feel as natural as you would like them too, which is unfortunate considering the earthiness of the album.  That earthiness bears an uncanny resemblance to one of Lisa's contemporaries, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon.  Considering that the two have worked together in the past, this really comes as no surprise.  What is surprising is just how similar their their music is to one another.  In more ways than one, We Were All Together sounds much like a Sun Kil Moon album.

The most outstanding feature of the album, however, is Lisa Cerbone's voice, and it is here will listeners will either be drawn in or turned off.  To make a direct comparison would be impossible, as it is truly unique.  The best I can do is to say that it sounds a lot like Joey Lauren Adams' voice (of Chasing Amy).  There is definitely an innocence, and angelic quality to it.  When singing a strongly-written melody, such as that of "Tiny Patch of Earth," it's hard to imagine any other voice singing it.  However, there are times when she seems less sure of herself (perhaps to convey frailty), or when a single note is repeated several times ("Mia Noelle"), and it is in these times when her voice can seem less angelic and more difficult.  These moments are few and far between, however, and I've found myself captivated by her vocal stylings on more than one occasion.

In the end, We Were All Together has much to offer to the unsuspecting listener.  Cerbone's vocals and lyrics are almost always noteworthy, and her experience as a songwriter has definitely helped her in that regard.  Unfortunately, a lot of these songs sound so similar to one another that I've often found myself drifting off without realizing that 3 or 4 tracks have come and gone.  The situation is not helped by the fact that We Were All Together's strongest tracks come at the very beginning.  As such, the album can start to drag, even if Cerbone is really doing nothing wrong in the context of the song.  In fact, when taken in small, song by song doses, the album really does have more of an effect on you.  These tiny pictures of domestic life, parenthood, and simple moments really are beautiful in and of themselves.  The overall experience may not be as strong as I would have liked, but there is enough decent material on We Were All Together for me to recommend it to fans of Mark Kozelek and similar artists.  Lisa Cerbone hasn't made the most solid album I've ever heard, but it is beautiful.  Sometimes that's all you need.

Key Tracks:
1. "Humming"
2. "Tiny Patch of Earth"
3. "Close to the Battlefield"
4. "Change the Ending"
5. "Journey"

6 out of 10 Stars

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