Mirah and Spectratone International
Share This Place: Stories and Observations
ightfully bored with the record-release-tour rigmarole, the past few years have seen Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn engaging in all sorts of extra credit projects. 2003’s Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project was a travelogue of a month spent holed up in North Carolina that began to musically plumb her Jewish heritage, while in 2004 she released a collection of political songs with the Black Cat Orchestra. Share This Place continues the trend: it’s an album co-commissioned by two Northwest arts organizations that “explores the tender, dramatic, sordid, tragic and triumphant lives of insects.”
Members of the Black Cat Orchestra once again contribute (Lori Goldston, cello, and Kyle Hanson, accordion), this time under the name Spectratone International, adding a percussionist and an oudist to their ranks. Their major influence seems to be klezmer, imbuing Mirah’s insect tales with an Eastern European tinge. “Following the Sun” is a perfect example, placing a droning, yearning cello up against cautiously buoyant accordion, while the oud plucks away unassumingly in the pocket created by the tasteful percussion. This combination, with instruments switching up emotional roles along the way, makes up the best tracks here—further teasing out the roma influences that Mirah has heretofore only really flirted with.
The other major influence at work here is the famed entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre. Mirah writes lyrics here that do justice to the man Hugo called “the Homer of insects,” looking at their lives from every conceivable angle. Teacher: “If I am killed and not understood / You will never learn what you could.” Seductress: “I vanquish you with kisses, a dubious caress.” Scientific: “Secretions quiet and dependable.” And while there are plenty of references to the evil humans, harming the defenseless creatures, in the end, as Brian Howe points out, the whole thing ends up being less anti-human and more simply pro-community.
“Can’t we all just get along” is the most mockable of all sentiments—pretty much on par with the idea of a song cycle devoted to insects, I suppose. But despite the unfortunate consistency of the musical backing (the key to Mirah has always been her ability to shapeshift over a wide variety of lo-fi walls of sound), Mirah once again lifts a silly concept up, turns it around in her hands, and figures out a way to make it hugely fascinating—and musically satisfying. One just hopes that she has enough extracurriculars on her resume now to feel comfortable getting back to the business of releasing boring ol’ proper albums.
Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2007-08-23