Where Does Love
If you think no one writes folk songs like they used to, you need to hear Kim Wallach. A veteran of the '70s folk scene in Harvard Square, both as soloist and as one-third of the Short Sisters, Wallach seems always to have kept in mind the power of music, particularly folk music, to heal - whether that healing comes in the form of fostering hope, a sense of strength and resolve in the face of injustice, or simply the ability to laugh and take comfort. All these forms of healing are employed on Wallach's new CD, Where Does Love Come From?
A particularly beautiful aspect of this recording is how venerable the music sounds, how old and wise. If you didn't know Wallach was the author of most of these songs, you might think they were traditional, or at least composed in the distant past as they sound that homespun. And like the best songs of the past, Wallach's songs sound timeless rather than dated. The effect is enhanced by the able assistance of Wallach's many musical friends, among them Peter Barnes, Susie Burke, Liza Constable, Sally Rogers, and the other two Short Sisters, Fay Baird and Kate Seeger.
Each song here is concerned, in one way or another, with the various aspects of love, not only romantic love but also parental love, love of peace and justice, and the love and trust you need in yourself. The title track, penned by Grit Laskin, is a fitting introduction to this thesis, as it examines the childhood notion of love coming from the heart:
After Bill Staines's ode to idealized love, Song for Tingmissartoq (about Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's round-the-world flight), Wallach's own songs explore love's thornier aspects, such as Endless Flight ("Love is an endless flight / Through uncharted skies on a cloudy night") and the melancholy Water's Edge, in which the singer watches a flock of geese flying south and concludes, "but love has clipped my wings for me." The song is the more wistful as Wallach has arranged it to weave around the words and melody of the traditional tune, The Water Is Wide, sung here in a duet with Sally Rogers.
Romance is given a more light-hearted treatment, however, in the sweetly silly song, Jilted by a Venezuelan, in which the singer is courted by an exotic lover-boy only to be told, on the eve of her sailing off to live with him, that it is not meant to be:
Gradually the songs become more socially conscious, such as Turn In Your Guns, about a young child's awareness of and response to violence, and Tall Carolina Pines, the story of a forbidden interracial love that ends tragically. Of this batch, the most powerful is United in Song, an autobiographical piece that tells how she, as a young girl, was proud of her mother for going out to march in Washington D.C., "and to hear Dr. King give his speech." The song continues to the terrible news that "struck like a bomb" of King's assassination, and of Wallach revisiting that grief, years later, in the fateful motel room in Memphis. The refrain, though simple, takes on added weight at the end: "Still we sing / Our voices ring / United in song / Hope makes us strong."
The very last song, In Your Own Heart, brings the listener full circle from the first song, Where Does Love Come From, as it affirms that love does, indeed, come from the heart, especially if you need love for yourself:
These are simple melodies sung honestly. Listening to Wallach's ringing alto, accompanying herself on guitar and banjo, you sense that she hasn't a pretentious bone in her body. When she sings about dropping everything to go catch a glimpse of the President, she does so without irony, and without a single easy political potshot. The moment when she sings, in the middle of a song to a departed loved one, the words "I can't believe that you're dead," her voice bespeaks a sadness all the more poignant in its understated honesty and acceptance. Some people have been recording music for twice as many decades as Wallach has, and have not reached the level of emotional nuance that she achieves. Hers is a frank, New England voice; it's the voice of someone who has spent the morning splitting wood and making bread dough, and is now wiping her hands on her jeans and looking around to see what else needs doing. It is the voice of the friend, who, when you come to her with a heartache, will make coffee and tell you wise and grounded things in a calm, unflinchingly honest voice. And more than that: it's the voice of someone who has done some remarkable things in her life, from a family of people who have done remarkable things, and she wants you to know, in your sadness and doubt, that you can do it too. Imparting that kind of message can be the most healing act of all. It's what the best music, especially folk music, has always done, and on Where Does Love Come From?, Kim Wallach's songs continue to heal, just like they used to.
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz