Religion and Release
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Bernice Lewis is one of my favorite singers. She has a gift for writing songs that touch all of us where we live. She writes about love, family, and on her newest release, religion. Her voice has a bright, shimmering quality that is quite lovely and distinctive.
Religion and Release is Lewis' fifth independently produced recording. It takes on a variety of subjects from the all too real downfall of a well-known guru, to the Jewish tradition of Passover, to the passions and foibles of love.
The recording opens with the upbeat, catchy melody of Gotta Get Better. It's a spirited song that urges us to let go of love and move on. Jennifer Kimball's harmony vocals and Doug Plavin's playing out the beat on drums add some special magic to this radio-friendly tune.
When the Guru was Around tells the true story of the infamous Lenox, Massachusetts religious leader's fall from grace. I like the way Lewis takes on difficult material and makes it compelling both musically and lyrically. Brian Melnick on percussion lends an Indian flavor to the melody.
Bliss's Child is a beautiful lullabye; a romantic ballad, soft and lovely. Lewis' voice shimmers and soars. Ellis Paul adds sweet harmony on the chorus:
|No blame, no shame, |
no calling out your name
sauntering through all life's trials
now that I am bliss's child.
Memories, family and religious themes inform both the title cut, Religion and Release, and Mama's Wine Glasses. Dar Williams accompanies Lewis on the former, while Rob Curto on accordian adds just the right touch to both songs.
Bright Angel Creek is a touching tribute to a favorite place in the Grand Canyon. Brooks Williams on slide guitar is a special treat here.
Lewis has a great deal of fun with Normal's Just a Setting on the Washing Machine, a tongue in cheek country-style song pointing out what appears "normal" and what does not. It's all accompanied by what she calls "The Normal Chorus" in the song credits, which sounds like a gathering of friends and family. Lewis saves the sweetest song for last. In "Glacier" she manages to combine the story of a special love, a glacier, and the bar that brings them both together. Her voice rises and falls on the notes of Adam Rothberg's electric guitar.
Listening to Bernice Lewis sing is one of life's singular pleasures. Her songs take us to places that are remarkable and new, yet they feel familiar and comfortable at the same time. Religion and Release is a beautifully realized vision of family, love and religion. What makes it special is the shimmering quality of Bernice Lewis' voice, and her ability to make these themes come to life in a perfectly written lyric. Religion and Release is Lewis' finest achievement. It's a winner from every angle.
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All songs written by Bernice Lewis except where noted.
Edited by David Schultz