Besides the modern classical / neoclassical / jazz / progressive nature of Romancing the Dark, let alone the pure beauty of the singing, I was rather astonished to discover that almost everything here was written and arranged by Ms. Stern (and so's ya know, she's not related to Mike and Leni), resulting in a disc that has few comparatives. Her tone and sensitivity are mindful of Nikki Schrire and Lorraine Feather, but her métier is decidedly more darkly cabaretic, even artier, more running beside Strindberg and Bergman than, say, Waits or Cave. At various points there are marked affinities to Annette Peacock, Robert Wyatt, gypsy refrains, Steven Sondheim, Weill & Brecht, and various other musical litterateurs.
In fact, the Sondheim reference brings to mind Annie Haslam's version of If I Loved You along with her equally stunning cover of Dvorak's Going Home. Romancing is kinda like that, revivifying and enhancing airs not normally found in rock, jazz, or related modes. David Axelrod, among others, messed around with the style to excellent effect, but Stern embraces the timbre of midnight more fully, the lonely tolling of far away bells above an aching heart, the sigh of fog as it drifts over fallow meadows, an amber moon glowing starkly in arid ebon skies. Haunted Heart enfolds all of that and then more in the sort of atmosphere the word 'bittersweet' was invented for.
And the packing of the release is superb, a book format like one of those very sturdy Japanese issuances memorializing treasured LPs, and Stern herself has earned the respect and admiration of illustrious musicians: Sheila Jordan, John Stowell, Bud Shank, David Friesen, etc. Her last release included an abundance of covers and earned glowing critical praise for the interpretive elements, but Romancing the Dark reveals just what lay beneath her re-visioning there, a showcase for not just Ms. Stern's entrancing vocals and depth-encrusted compositions but her very soul as well.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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