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Album Review

Amanda Tosoff: Earth Voices

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Amanda Tosoff: Earth Voices
Building off the lure of language planted in Amanda Tosoff's Juno-nominated Words (Empress Music Group, 2016), this sixth album from the Toronto-based composer and pianist waves poetic in wondrous fashion. Pairing different guest vocalists and collections of musicians with personalized takes on Parnassian beauty of varied sorts, Tosoff cements the bonds between earthly voices and heavenly sounds with a questioning spirit.

The list of subjects and styles, both in words and music, varies widely on this playlist. But this is no slapdash selection thrown together at will. Reason provides a place of purpose for everything in the mix. "A Dream Within a Dream," featuring vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow and marrying Tosoff's music with Edgar Allan Poe's work, deals in doubt and uncertainty with both bright-eyed, upbeat accents and open engagement. "Sonnet 49," showcasing Robin Dann's voice, serves as an expansion on Luciana Souza's exploration of Pablo Neruda's emotional arc(s) with gliding grace and chamber-esque adorments. "Here and Heaven," adding weight and personality with strings, grooving like a pendulum swings, and featuring some ear-catching harmonizing from singers Michelle Willis and Alex Samaras , calls to mind the under-appreciated original—part of a decade-old collaboration between Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Aoife O'Donovan and Chris Thile. And Tosoff's musical investigation of Rumi's "Birdwings," with Samaras' absorbing Kurt Elling-meets-Theo Bleckmann interpretation, tackles topics tied clearly to today—loss, moving forward, finding solid footing—with both sensitivity and strength.

While each of the aforementioned pieces arrives from different angles, their themes almost seem to be working in sympathy, building toward "Oh, Life." Vocalist Laila Biali, offering aching beauty with some help from Samaras, takes on the work of Mike Ross (of Soul Pepper Theatre) and, with Tosoff's sensitive structural refinements surrounding her, creates a meditation on existence and departure. Lydia Persaud's spellbinding delivery of Joni Mitchell's constantly relevant "The Fiddle and the Drum" follows, playing to its own clear truths, and Felicity WIlliams' strings-supported look at Walt Whitman's "To a Stranger" and Barlow's mighty and melodious handling of Marjorie Pickthall's poetry prove wholly complementary to the cross-threaded notions that Tosoff adopts.

Despite the dizzying array of influences that inform Earth Voices, there's remarkable consistency and clarity across this program. Tosoff never seems far from home, regardless of reach, and her vision for how to shape these poems and pieces (through her writing and playing), what each represents, and who to tap to bring each one to life, proves profound. Whether taken as a broad glance at authentic existence, a clear address on a compatibility of art forms or a survey of some of Canada's most notable vocal and instrumental talent(s), Earth Voices earns high marks.

Track Listing

1. A Dream Within a Dream (feat. Emilie-Claire Barlow) 2. Sonnet 49 (feat. Robin Dann) 3. Here and Heaven (feat. Michelle Willis & Alex Samaras) 4. Birdwings (feat. Alex Samaras) 5. Oh, Life (feat. Laila Biali & Alex Samaras) 6. The Fiddle and the Drum (feat. Lydia Persaud) 7. To a Stranger (feat. Felicity Williams w/ strings) 8. Finis (feat. Emilie-Claire Barlow) Vocalists and composers listed above. Music arranged by Amanda Tosoff

Personnel

Amanda Tosoff: piano; Kelly Jefferson: saxophone, tenor; Allison Au: saxophone, alto; Aline Homzy: violin; Beth Silver: cello; Jeremy Potts: violin; Laurence Schaufele: viola; Alex Goodman: guitar; Jon Maharaj: bass; Morgan Childs: drums; Emilie-Claire Barlow: voice / vocals; Robin Dann: voice / vocals; Michelle Willis: voice / vocals; Laila Biali: voice / vocals; Lydia Persaud: voice / vocals; Felicity WIlliams: voice / vocals; Alex Samaras : voice / vocals.

Additional Instrumentation

Produced by Amanda Tosoff & David Hermiston Engineered & mixed by David Hermiston Recorded at Revolution Recording Mastered by João Carvalho Art by Sonia Beckwith

Album information

Title: Earth Voices | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Empress Music Group


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