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Lorraine Feather: I Love You Guys

Carl L. Hager By

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"Interestingly, for all the sophistication in both the music and lyrics of Lorraine's and my songs together, the actual compositions, almost all the time, follow quite traditional songwriting forms. For example, 'Attachments' is written in an AABAC form. The verses are twelve bars long—very traditional, though not a blues—and the B and C sections are both eight bars long, again very traditional. So, we expand these traditions by playing with the rhythmic phrasing of the lyrics, and using sophisticated chordal harmony."

One of Feather's hallmarks is a unique ability to fearlessly attack the diction of a lyric. Slow, medium, fast or crazy fast, she can sing all the words and hit all the notes in her vocal range. I asked Arkin how this, a skill few singers possess, affects the way he composes.

He said, "As we jazz musicians like to say, Lorraine has 'big ears' [referring to the aural attribute rather than the physical attribute]. So this is an area where our collaborations can really take off. Along with her razor sharp diction, Lorraine also possesses the ability to hit intervals that are outside the normal diatonic or blues scale style of songwriting. Thus, we're free to come up with melodies that are quite chromatic in nature, plus she's really comfortable singing the upper extensions of chords. And with the versatility of her voice, I can write a melody in her lower register and all of a sudden jump as much as an octave, and continue in her upper register with a smoothness as if she were singing one continuous line. These elements allow us to create very dramatic colors and constantly changing emotions. At the same time, she sings with a softness that pulls the listener into her story. Her voice is especially well suited to the depth and personal characteristics of her lyrics."

"Hearing Things" is a quintessential Feather tune with the kind of lyrics few other songwriters would write, even if they could, and fewer yet would ever have the composure to sing convincingly. A song about that emotional echo chamber in which one wants so much to simply engage with another human being—but can't quite—it lights a candle in that dark place where one is unable to easily distinguish between what is plausible and what is possible, what is imagined or what is desired. The emotional miasm is an uncomfortable place, but as the song ends, it turns a completely unexpected corner as Feather's voice is overdubbed in an eerie, Felliniesque chorus that hovers and floats instead of fading, until it ends neatly and logically, like an exhalation. It is musical terra incognita, and similar to other compositions on this recording like "A Little Like This" or "The Veil," Feather's lyrics seem to have gone deeper and become more emotionally complex than ever before.

I asked Arkin, whose long collaboration with Feather has seen many changes of direction, if the experience of writing with her has changed.

"As with any close relationship, be it a spouse, friend or collaborator, we all hold out a fervent hope that as our hierarchy of needs change, we can all grow and change together in some parallel way. Lorraine and I have been quite lucky in this matter. We've been writing together for close to 30 years, going back to the first major recording of one of our songs, 'Big Fun' by Barry Manilow, for his album Swing Street and the subsequent CBS television special, Big Fun On Swing Street. In those days, the music came first and then the lyrics, often [with each of us] working our part out on our own. We continued writing all through the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, at which time I became quite busy as a TV composer, so songwriting took a backseat for me for the next ten years.

"As Lorraine began to write her own albums featuring herself as an artist, our method of working changed. She came up with the lyrics first and we started to sit in the same room, working out these tunes together, at least until we had a substantial part of the song written. Then I would develop the arrangement more until the next time we got together. I think sitting in the same room and hashing these ideas out can only occur with two people who've worked together for many years and have established a vulnerable and trusting relationship.

"I like to think of our collaborative efforts as growing deeper with each new project. However, I've always felt that our writing over the years has been quite emotional. What I love about it, and feel is quite unique about Lorraine's lyric writing, is that it covers the whole landscape of the human condition. Besides the humor, wit, literary and poetic intelligence, Lorraine's lyrics are at the same time full of longing, yearning, comfort, acceptance, sensuality, and even fear. So I like to think of our songs as an ongoing development of our talent and skills that is hopefully growing deeper with each new project.

"As for the song 'Hearing Things,' it's written in 6/4 time but does not have a waltz feel. The rhythm, as I learned later, is a Peruvian style called a Lando. The accent is on beat 1 and 5, so it has the feel of 1234, 12. I feel the music and the lyric of this piece create a very mysterious, almost existential mood. Lorraine and I decided to have a chorale at the end of the song, where the rhythmic feel becomes more waltz-like. Notice how beautifully Lorraine's overdubs blend on the different lines in the mostly 2-part but sometimes 3-part harmony."

When asked if he saw any other differences between Feather's work on Attachments and her last recording, Tales of the Unusual, Arkin said, "I only see small differences between the two projects. Mainly from a music and lyrics standpoint, there seems to be more of a spatial aspect to Attachments. There's more instrumental 'blowing' or improvisation in this album, and I feel the compositions contain more of what I would call positive and negative space, meaning more spread out. I feel this album really breathes and the listener has more room to experience the project as a whole. Also I believe the subject matter is more universal, [something] most people can identify with."

I asked Arkin if he ever employed a device that I sometimes use myself when writing: which is, reading lines I have written out loud to myself, in order to hear the sound of the words as opposed to the meanings of those same words, in order to make adjustments when sounds or cadences could be at odds with the sentence's meaning, potentially causing confusion for the reader. In my case it would result in changing the vocabulary or grammar to suit the communication; in his case, it would mean adjusting the composition to suit Feather's lyrics.
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