This is a beautiful album. Kelly Mulhollan is half the folk duo Still on the Hill from Arkansas. A fine singer and multi-instrumentalist, Mulhollan plays guitar (usually classical) mandolin, pump organ, harmonica, hand drums, bells, ukulele, recorder, bass drum, upright bass and something called a thunder tube. Donna Stjerna, his partner in life and Still on the Hill adds violin and vocals. The playing is excellent.
Mulhollan laments the loss of the Art Song, a wedding of poetry and music, in the CD notes and explains that the challenge is to match the poem with music that will "lift the words from the page." He has done so admirably. The poems are by Wallace Stephens, William Blake (2), W.H. Auden, Langston Hughes (3), and e.e. cummings. There is also a translation of a Gabon Pygmy funeral chant, an excerpt from the Book of Jeremiah and an original piece by Mulhollan. He has chosen well for his experiment in Art Song.
The texts are a mixture of the obscure and the less obscure, but no matter. As is sometimes the case with poetry, if the words are beautiful enough, understanding is not an absolute requirement for appreciation (i.e. the Blake poems). That's not to say that the listener will necessarily be overly challenged by them. The settings are outstanding throughout. Mulhollan has a real gift for melody and the instrumental backing creates a moody, ethereal quality that is very effective. His guitar work is particularly attractive and the additional and sometimes unusual instruments he has chosen to flesh out the sound make for a very appealing mix.
It's not easy to single out favorites, as there's not a weak cut on the album, but the opening track, Excerpts form: Continual Conversation with a Silent Man, William Blake's The Garden of Love, and Mulhollan's own Desert Dream are particularly well done. Langston Hughes' God to a Hungry Child is also among the best and bears a message we should all take to heart. In addition to providing the listener with great music, this album should also send the poetry fan in search of more by these writers. It should also send the listener in search of more music in which Kelly Mulhollan is involved (check out Still on the Hill). Highly recommended!
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