Although Mae Robertson's voice is not everything on Meet the Song Halfway, it is the main thing, and the strange thing is that it is not what she does with it but what she does not which sets her apart. She does not, for instance, step beyond her comfort zone nor does she participate in vocal octave Olympics. She bypasses the trills and vibratos and tricks of the vocal trade for the honest and true, the voice as pure instrument, and the end result is, to be honest, brilliant. In letting her voice speak for her, she allows the music to take center stage and without the ego and the drama prevalent in so many singers of today, she carries you away without a struggle.
One part of this magnificent equation is Robertson's unerring sense of song. Interspersed with five beautiful self-penned songs and one co-written with a songwriting horde (more about that later) are six handpicked classics (in the pure sense of the term), and not what you might expect either. A Kim Richey/Angelo Petraglia song, Straight As the Crow Flies, sets the bar high with a light country rock folk feel and a melody and lyrics completely worthy of Richey, one of today's obscured treasures in the world of music. Third song in, Robertson goes lounge with a tone perfect version of Elvis Costello's Almost Blue, so spot on that you almost smell the cigarette smoke and hear the clinking glasses. J. D. Martin and Jamie Houston's Only Heaven Knows" sounds like it was written for Robertson and she handles it with kid gloves, singing every word with a sense of reverence. Darden Smith has written some really fine songs, but none which could fit Robertson better than Turning To You. Co-written by Gary Nicholson, it has that light pop feel with a true underlying emotion, a perfect fit here. Robertson shows heart in her next choice, Beth Nielsen Chapman's All For the Love, a spine-tingling song of true depth. And who could argue with the inclusion of Little Trip To Heaven, a light jazzy contribution courtesy of Mr. Tom Waits and handled elegantly by Robertson and crew.
Robertson shows she has a way with the pen on her five songs, all beautiful and beautifully performed, but the coup de grace, so to speak, is the song of the hordes. Meet the Sun Halfway is co-written by Robertson, Terri Allard, Craig Carothers, Penny Nichols and Sloan Wainwright and though it seems there not be enough song to be spread amongst the numbers, hear her out.
"Sloan and Penny and I were on a songwriting retreat in Virginia and had been stuck in the house for a few days because of rain," Robertson says. "When the rain finally stopped, I told them I wanted to take them on a walk. They asked what they would see and I began to describe the area, where I assumed there had once been a farmhouse. There were Chestnut trees in two rows that I thought probably once lined a driveway and a group of Ash trees I thought maybe were once in front of a house. Just as we were about to leave, a car pulled into the drive. In the car were ninety year old Phyllis White Dell'Aria and her son, looking for the site of her grandmother's farm which she thought might be located downhill from our house. I asked what she remembered about the site (which she had not seen since she was fifteen) and she said, well, there were Ash trees in front of the farmhouse with Chestnut trees on either side of the driveway. After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I escorted them to the site where we spent a couple of hours with them. Terri Allard came to dinner that night and we couldn't stop talking about Phyllis and the amazing coincidence of it all. After dinner, we realized that we had to write the song. Later that night, Craig Carothers arrived to join us on our retreat. We stopped writing to welcome him and Terri headed home. That night, I had the idea for the title of the song and came down the next morning, title in hand. We played what we had on the song thus far for Craig and the four of us finished the song that day. In November, I did a concert in Northern Virginia and invited Phyllis to come to the show. I was able to give her the very first copy of the CD, which was really exciting for the both of us." That, my friends, is how great songs are written on occasion, and is why five songwriters share credit on a tune totalling 3:19 running time. In case I haven't said it, it is a superb 3:19.
I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to the musicians and production and engineering people here. Bob Dawson and Webb Robertson helped Mae put together an excellent album, top to bottom, and oh, those musicians—Jon Carroll, Pete Huttlinger, Jim Ohlschmidt, Jim Roberts, Steve Fidyk, Charlotte Roberts, Graham Breedlove, and Penny Nichols—they do have the touch.
I saved this part for last because, as hard as I try, I cannot seem to separate Mae Robertson from Karen Carpenter, for though their voices and spirits are far enough apart to avoid comparisons, they are also far enough together. Sometimes when I hear Robertson's phrasing, at times so delicate it is transparent, I hear Karen Carpenter—not the voice, but the way she could take a song like Klaatu's Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft and while being true to the original, turn it into a Carpenters song. Mae Robertson does that, perhaps because her interpretation of her music shares with Karen's a certain purity of spirit all too rare in today's digitized and compartmentalized Internet-driven world.
In the end, it comes down to this. When Mae Robertson sings, it is meditation for the soul. Her voice almost breathes you to a different world in which beauty and light and good make everything right. I think we could all use a little more of that and Meet the Sun Halfway delivers. And then some.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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