Deborah Wai Kapohe leads quite a musical life: studies and performance in opera and a parallel career as a singer-songwriter. With the former, she has appeared in her native New Zealand, as well as Australia and the Barbican in London; clutching her guitar and pen, she has now produced her second contemporary album, I Unwrap You.
Her songs have a ring of truth about them: everyday life and everyday events, things which are important to the individual yet often pass others by. But unlike many such personal writers, her lyrics are not self-indulgent or obscure word-plays. She has much in common with writers like Laura Nyro or Anjani Thomas as she expresses thoughts and feelings, creating an atmosphere rather than directly telling a story.
She captures an empty aching as she explains longing through a series of questions, taking the listener through the emotions and the pain. Yet an optimistic spirit eventually wins over: "Do you ever live a day when you want to climb out of your brain/I'm glad to say that was yesterday". Cyrus's Gift at first listening could easily be a statement to a lover, yet its warmth and appreciation apply just as well to a new-born baby. Unrequited love (If It Was Mine To Give) is balanced by fulfillment (At The Café). Whatever sentiments she had when creating her songs, she has an inclusiveness that makes them connect with others.
Deborah has a gymnastic and diverse voice in both range and emotion. She is comforting in a lower register, but can hit impossibly high (yet perfectly right) notes, with an uncanny knack of switching from low to high and back at the right moments. Similarly, she can sound earthy and driving on one track and then light, almost ethereal, on another.
Along with her guitar playing, she is accompanied by Sam Benge on 10-string guitar and percussion. Instrumentally, she takes a low key approach, with rarely more than picked chords playing behind her. She also adds occasional harmonies. But there is such flexibility in her singing that, in spite of similar arrangements throughout, the accent is always on her varied vocals.
Yet the partially hidden last track, Forgotten Easily, highlights a missed opportunity. Again, her dynamic, engulfing vocal is the main focus of the song, allowing the poignant lyrics to hit hard. However, in some ways the accompaniment is a little more complex than elsewhere, with her strummed guitar and a second guitar weaving a pattern in the distance. Without spoiling the album, the song leaves me wondering how much more potent she could have been had arrangements been a little more involved.
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