Australian vocalist Joanna Weinberg is a difficult artist to pigeonhole in one genre. A testament to her versatility, The Piano Diaries
is a very personal debut stemming from her restarting piano lessons after a three-decade hiatus, and represents a musical distillation of her eponymous autobiographical one-woman show.
The dozen-song set showcases her various influences yet create a very original whole. Her times spent in South Africa are reflected in the jazz-like township theme of "Daughters of the Empire," a feeling enhanced by saxophonist Mark Ginsburg, while the lyrics to the otherwise Irish-sounding "Freckled Angels," are replete with droll impishness and melodic hooks.
Weinberg's poetic verse on the folk/blues-tinged "Innocence" is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, without his dark-tinged humor. She purrs through:
So come my darling
With your pale wounded feet
We'll get out of the spotlights
And we'll make love in the middle of George street.
Elsewhere, on the somber and melancholic "Witness," her sensual voice is framed by sparse notes from pianist Rafael Nazario and cellist Kate Adams, as she utters the chilling words:
The heavy shape your body made
It takes a month for it to vanish
The grass will grow, the wheels will turn
And I am there, I am your witness.
Weinberg's time as a Cabaret star endows several of the tunes with a theatrical quality that is more Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weil than it is Broadway. The lush, almost fairy tale-like ballad "The Artists are Leaving" has hints of classical style, especially during the cello interludes, while the whimsical story of her parents, "Benjamin and Penelope," could easily fit in a Weil opus. The gypsy-informed "The Winds of Fear" conveys its message of wanderers seeking refuge with its bittersweet melody, even if it contains no lyrics.
Whether she is singing an Afro-Cuban song like on "Beautiful Old Man," with its infectious soprano sax solo, or a tongue-in-cheek retro piece like "Piano at the Cabaret," Weinberg brings a unique wisdom-tempered exuberance to both her writing and performance that makes this handsomely designed and impeccably mastered record an all-around delight.
Personnel: Joanna Weinberg: vocals; Rafael Nazario: piano, keyboards, additional
instrumentation; Kate Adams: cello; Mark Ginsburg: soprano and tenor
saxophones, flute; Martijn Hadders: guitar; Jonathan Zwartz: bass; Simon
Fishburn: drums; Blair Greenburg: African drums, percussion.