Pianist Ran Blake has a long track record of collaborations with vocalists starting over 50 years ago when he made the album The Newest Sound Around with Jeanne Lee and continuing in the years since in recordings with Chris Connor, Christine Correa and Sara Serpa among others. This is his second meeting on disc with his fellow instructor at the New England Conservatory, Dominique Eade. The first, Whirlpool, fit snugly in with Blake's prominent film noir interests. This remarkable new one, Town And Country is more varied, mixing together film themes, folk songs, spirituals in a timely portrait of an American pastoral landscape dark with foreboding.
Eade's singing is a crucial part of this. She is a criminally underappreciated and versatile vocalist and over the course of the CD, she takes on the role of mountain folksinger, sophisticated club chanteuse and motor-mouthed, wordslinging rapper. This last part appears on Bob Dylan's apocalyptic "It's Alright Ma," Eade speeding through the verses in a soul-inflected monotone before singing spectacularly high on the title lyric as Blake decorates her words with isolated, chiming chords. Her voice rises poignantly on two takes of Jean Ritchie's "West Virginia Mine Disaster," is firm and wailing on the spiritual "Elijah Rock" and hypnotically soulful on "Goodnight Irene."
Then there are the TV and film pieces. On "Moonglow" and "Moon River" the pair dance and prod around the melodies, Eade's voice moaning as Blake's brittle piano comments while on "Moonlight In Vermont" Eade comes out in full, swooning cry over her partner's dream-like brooding. "Open Highway" is actually Nelson Riddle's theme for the old Route 66 television show with lyrics. Eade's cautious but warm voice undercuts the usual carefree sense of the theme while Blake's allusive murmurs follow the melody for once.
Eade seems to be in the forefront on most tracks but Blake gets a few spotlight turns, particularly in his icy and ominous rumbling on the two "Harvest" pieces. He also gains a measure of eerie poignancy poking around on "Gunther" with Eade's ghostly, wordless vocal in tow.
Dominique Eade's elastic, malleable voice makes a striking counterpart to Ran Blake's haunted piano. Together the two suggest various levels of dread and emotion on this disc in a really striking manner. This is an outstanding collaboration between two artists who should be much better known and one of the most moving pieces of music I've heard this year.
Lullaby; It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); Moon River; West Virginia Mine Disaster; Elijah Rock; Give My Love to Rose; Harvest At Massachusetts General Hospital; The Easter Tree; Moonglow/Theme from Picnic; Thoreau; Moti; Pretty Fly; Open Highway; Gunther; West Virginia Mine Disaster; Harvest at Massachusetts General Hospital; Moonlight in Vermont; Goodnight, Irene.
Dominique Eade, vocal; Ran Blake, piano; Prudence Steiner, narration on "Thoreau".