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Lori Lieberman - Monterey Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 March 2003
Drive On Records, 2003
| Performance 7 | Sound 7 |

ImageIf you speed along California’s freeways with your eyes on the road and the pedal to the metal, you may never truly appreciate scenic and spectacular locales such as Monterey. Likewise, if you throw on Lori Lieberman's quiet Monterey CD while, say, vacuuming the living room at full power, you just won't fully appreciate the experience. This is because Lieberman’s folkish singing, which sometimes has a Joni Mitchell quality to it, is like the soft sound of somebody whispering in your ear, instead of screaming out loud for your attention. Monterey is an album that gently pleads with you to stop and take a moment to recognize the beautiful things in life.

The sound of Monterey is built around Lieberman's finger-picked guitar. Her folk guitar sounds are also augmented by cello in many places, and the addition of extra instrumentation -- such as Greg Liesz's dobro and pedal steel, and Katie Salvidge's violin -- elsewhere. When acoustic guitar is not the primary foundation, Lieberman can be found playing acoustic piano, as she does on "Texas Sky," "Drive On" and (along with a string quartet) "Hallie."

It’s worth noting how sparse the vocal tracks are here. This is absolutely appropriate, since Lieberman has one of those striking voices that make you sit up and take immediate notice. Rarely is she accompanied by backing vocals, and when she is, she’s often heard harmonizing with herself, as she does on “Drive On,” “Monterey” and many other songs. The album has a hushed quality to it, as if Lieberman is revealing the deepest secrets of her soul to you and you alone. On “If You Didn’t,” which is given a chiming quality do to its usage of Steve Bigas’ empathetic dulcimer, it’s as if the listener is an unseen invisible presence, hearing the most intimate and personal thoughts as they are exchanged between lovers.

For some, Lieberman’s place in music history is a footnote in that it was her version of "Killing Me Softly With His Song" that Roberta Flack first heard on an American Airlines music channel, but this singer/songwriter has been consistently creating music, while at the same time balancing music making with raising a family. Her new music is just as contemporary as today's news headlines. "The Letter," for example, uses an emotional plea for a better world as a hopeful response to the events surrounding 9/11. An even more sincere hope is expressed throughout this CD, exemplified by the thankful tone of "If You Didn't." This song suggests that family life has been particularly good to Lieberman.

In Lieberman’s world, cities and states aren’t just insignificant names on a map. Rather, locales hold enormous emotional weight. People’s personalities are also likened to places, such as the character in the song “Texas,” who was -- much like that big and powerful state -- born with lightning in his eyes. In Lieberman’s heart landscape, Monterey is a place where she goes in hopes of regaining her identity, which is also explored in “Who You Are,” where a woman is confronted with the search for her true self, after a relationship has been dissolved. Humans identify so strongly with their mates that it’s hard to know where one partner ends and the other begins, especially after a difficult breakup.

When listening to Monterey, it is sometimes a little too easy to take Lieberman's unobtrusive sweetness for granted. Even though this album's consistently quiet sonic mood is admirable, Lieberman might want to consider framing her feelings in a few more different musical contexts in future releases. Surely, Lieberman has a spunky and humorous side, which could be better expressed with a more rhythmic soundscape. Just as the rolling hills of Monterey offer a sharp contrast to its sparkling sea, a little musical variety would have only added to Lieberman's overall appeal.

With Monterey, Lori Lieberman offers a gentle caress to a world overly bludgeoned by the harsh blows of modern life.

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