Q Division Records
443 Albany Street
Boston, MA 02118
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by David Schultz
"When I think of heaven I see clouds and stars and moonbeams and angels; things so light and airy --- superficial; and I know you'd prefer hell."
So opens the debut album Season of Rain by Merrie Amsterburg. Think of the voice of Tori Amos, but Amsterburg's songs are more accessible and melodic. Think of the songwriting talent of Kate Bush, but Amsterburg's vocals are more subdued and less theatrical. Every song on this album is about wanting, loving, missing, needing someone else. But don't think that this is just another "whiny woman with guitar singing about love" album; Season of Rain manages to pry originality out of a topic which could easily be banal.
Three songs on this album stand above the rest (read as "deserve to be Top 40 hits"): Great Divide, Say Good-bye, and World of Our Own Making. The tunes are downright infectious. World of Our Own Making begins with Amsterburg's catchy mandolin which underlies the song, giving it a sense of urgency, expressing the longing for a relationship, now defunct. "If this is for one of life's wisdoms," Amsterburg pleads, "I don't feel like learning much anymore." A similar on-edge feeling can be found in "Waiting". In this song, she stresses the tension between two lovers as they break up and each looks forward to future relationships: "She's waiting for you; he's waiting for me."
Other songs provide a glimpse inside the lamenting, relationship-weary Amsterburg: Otherworld, Lucky One, and the title track where Amsterburg broods, "If there was anything I might have said to make you feel life's not worth living. If there was anything I didn't do, well, I pray that I might be forgiven." Did her lover kill himself, or just leave her? Amsterburg is likely purposely vague, leaving it up to the listener to apply their own feelings toward her characters.
Season of Rain was produced by Mike Denneen, and his experienced resume (Letters to Cleo, Aimee Mann, Jennifer Trynin) clearly shows through. Amsterburg's breathy vocals are prominently featured in the mix, especially on the radio-friendly Great Divide and the Tori-like This Will Never Be My Year. Each song on Season of Rain is fresh and creative, the instrumentation distinctly different from the others. The multi-talented Amsterburg sings and plays many instruments on the album including guitar, bass, mandolin, piano, bouzouki, harmonium, trumpet, Indian banjo, and cottage organ. With the smart production of Season of Rain, it would seem that Amsterburg's best qualities could only be captured in the studio with a backing band. But to say that would be to deny her the crown as the top female solo artist in the 1996 Boston Acoustic Underground. To see the songs on Season of Rain performed solo acoustic by Amsterburg in an intimate folk setting would certainly provide a different perspective on her music. In fact, she is playing at the fabled Iron Horse in Northampton, MA with Dan Bern on Thursday September 25, 1997. Connecticut River Valley acoustic music fans should not miss this show!
It will be interesting to see where Amsterburg's next album takes listeners. The diversity of the songs on Season of Rain offers hope that Amsterburg still has more sad stories to tell and in creative, original ways.
Edited by Kerry Bernard