Isle of Spirit

Bernice Lewis

Sanctuary Records 6687

For booking and information:
P. O. Box 268
Williamstown, MA 01267

A review written for Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
By Shawn Linderman

After a long, tiring day, I arrived home at midnight to find Bernice Lewis' CD, Isle of Spirit, had arrived in the mail. I've never heard her before. I decided to put it on while I prepared for bed. After the first song, I set the "Repeat" button so the CD would play over and over. Three hours later I finally forced myself to go to bed, leaving the stereo on so I could drift to sleep to the most beautiful voice I've heard in a long while. The songs:

"Soon As It Stops Raining" -- this could be the theme song for Pacific Northwest procrastinators. It has a humorous, toe-tapping, up-tempo tune.

"Isle of Spirit" -- have you ever been blessed with a special friend--more than a friend but not a lover--with whom you often communicated without words yet with complete understanding? Bernice beautifully captures that incredibly rare binding of souls and asks why we accept only one word for love. This is one of those slow tunes where at least one instrument is moving along lickety-split, but softly; in this case, it's Bernice doing some fine fingerpicking on guitar.

"Red Cowboy Boots" -- a bouncy Texas two-step celebrating the special feelings we sometimes have for a favorite garment or, in this case, a pair of pretty cowboy boots. I initially thought this might be a spoof on those old Texas tunes from the 50's. Then I realized that even if it was, she accomplished what the movie "Silverado" did--a fabulous spoof on Westerns that, in itself, was one of the best Westerns made! In truth, this song is based on a true story of a woman who used them to get pregnant.

"Clear Texas Morning" -- a sweet love song carried on a Texas wind. I floated along with her gorgeous crystalline voice over the snow-covered fields.

"When the Rivers Had No Names" -- I believe Bernice intends this song to be her tribute to the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, MA, where, she relates on the CD booklet, all these songs were honed. The song might be considered an a cappella piece, with flute and wind tubes simulating the never-still voices of nature beneath a forest canopy.

"Down River" -- Bernice does a nice cover of this Erica Wheeler song, which is actually about Bernice and her third river trip down the Colorado river through a special canyon.

"Bridges that Hold" -- few lyrics here, but my favorite because with just a simple metaphor, she allows the listener to put their own life into the song:

See the strength in space and separation There's no finer thing than building

     bridges that hold ...
     All the stories you've ever told
     Are boards nailed down on bridges that hold
"Even the Sky" -- is a bluesy reflection on a relationship at risk. Bernice skillfully captures that fearful trepidation and anxiety when you think your world might soon come crashing down. She is well assisted by the sweet piano accompaniment of Tom McClung.

"Ways to Survive" -- this song immediately brought to mind the book, "For Those I Loved." The book is an autobiography of a man who survived the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Jews were initially contained before being shipped off to the extermination camps. Ms. Lewis presents the courage and hope of a young married woman who will find ways to survive.

"Moses and Me" -- if Earth becomes uninhabitable, who will lead us to a new promised land among the stars?

"All the Time in the World" -- I hope, one day, to hear Bernice do this song as a duet with Cliff Eberhardt or John Gorka. What a treat (and an instant classic) that would be!

Isle of Spirit is lush with images of nature. The musicians play a wide range of instruments, including accordion, didgereedoo, and even a rub-board. In voice, Bernice Lewis is America's answer to Mary Black and Maura O'Connell. In writing, her scenes rival the photography of Ansel Adams. She's a breathtaking joy to hear--the North Star in the night sky of contemporary singer/songwriters.

Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
This review may be reproduced with prior permission and attribution.

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