I’ve always had trouble with poetry. Too literal–minded, I suppose. Lyrics, which in their way are close to poetry, must have some purpose I can readily apprehend, else they fail to engage me. So it is that Denise Mangiardi’s River of My Own,
while conceived no doubt with the best of intentions, leaves me perplexed and searching for the meaning she evidently had in mind. It’s my inadequacy, I know, but I’m simply unable to relate to lyrics such as these: “Reach down for the brown bitter earth, and reach until your hand gets hot...the howling of wolves in the night, let us sing a thing that we can all recite. ...” Or, “When will the time come when I set the clocks to the seasons who call me down a river of my own. ...” Or, “Loving a golden moonsong, as they sing to a starry night, with cactus seashells out in the ocean, spinning, circle bound, watching. ...” Or how about, “Wind blows, and carries truth this way, then my fears come in and start a guessing game, over and over, till my head is black and blue, over and over, it keeps calling you. ...” And then there’s “Blending fusion’s tall and proud, each has their very own royal sound, never refusing when it’s time for us to come out. ...” and later, “So I sip the last taste of nectar from my brain, and the drips come all too slowly. Slowly I sip the taste till you linger long, deliberate, holding on. ...” There’s much more in the same vein, but I’m sure you get the idea. As for Vidacovich’s narration and Mangiardi’s gong on “Watch the Mountains Grow,” what is intended as earnest emerges instead as laughable. Having thus revealed my shortcomings, I must add that Mangiardi is a pretty respectable singer (who, in my opinion, would have been better served by a program that included more, shall we say, comprehensible songs; there’s only one here, Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” The others were written by Mangiardi).
Her first-rate back-up crew is comprised of some of New Orleans' finest musicians, several of whom Pellera, Singleton, Vidacovich, Dagradi, Masakowski are members of the highly regarded Astral Project. Pellera is especially pleasing on electric piano, as are Dagradi on soprano, tenor Traub and trumpeter Jakobsen. Mangiardi plays an Indian-like flute on the wordless closing number, "The Lotus." If one disregards the lyrics and concentrates solely on melody and rhythm, this is a fairly worthwhile session. But there aren't many songwriters who are also poets Cole Porter and Frank Loesser spring readily to mind and while I don't wish to sound mean-spirited, I fear that Mangiardi suffers greatly by comparison. Let's see what she can do for an encore.
Contact: Denise Mangiardi, Crow Hill Publishing, P.O. Box 1124, Bailey, CO 80421–1124 (phone 303–838–7047; fax 303–816–0387).
Track listing: Rocks and Streams; China; River of My Own; Precious Stones; Rainbow Chasers; The Keeper; Don’t Explain; Transformation; S–7 String; Fantasy; Watch the Mountains Grow; Stand Up (and Be a Human Being); The Lotus (59:17).
Collective personnel: Denise Mangiardi, vocals, gong, flute; Michael Pellera, acoustic and electric piano; Peter Martin, piano; Sammy Perfect, Hammond organ; Chris Severin, James Singleton, Bill Huntington, bass; John Vidacovich, drums, percussion, voice, Taos rattle; Tony Dagradi, tenor, soprano sax; Eric Traub, tenor sax; Erik Jekabson, trumpet; Steve Masakowski, guitar; Dave Easley, pedal steel; Sanford Hinderlie, string patch; Tomato, background vocal.