Lisa Cerbone: We Were All Together
Longtime Baltimore songwriter Lisa Cerbone's prior album came with the distinctive and ever so attractive production stamp of Mark Kozelek, of Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon fame. As a collaborator, he's almost too perfectly apt--Cerbone makes the spare, meditatively paced folk music that Kozelek excels in, an austere, almost negative space of no sharp corners, little adornment, and strikingly lovely voices. Cerbone and Kozelek have parted ways on this record, Cerbone's third, but We Were All Together suffers little.
It's about her voice, really. A burnished yet smoky, very high-pitched instrument, it's distinctive enough that among music any less naked--Together is mostly just unhurried picked guitar--it would be distracting. That voice doesn't have as much of the Kozelek laze of her last record, but she still doesn't shy from adopting his particular style of holding onto sung words for measures/light years at a time--though she doesn't drag her songs on for 10 minutes, which is Kozelek's thing.
That voice is marked by a signature tic, a sort of childish near-lisp, like she's pushing out a voice that's far too large for her mouth, that's almost off-putting on first listen. But it becomes a sweet/innocent counterpoint to weighty and wistful lyrics, printed with the album on the backs of a series of bleary, rainy-day photo cards (nice bonus). It ranges from war death on standout "Close to the Battlefield" ("You were just beginning to live/ Life reflected through animals and grandkids") to the piano-accompanied, heartbreaking "Change the Ending" ("There are things that only exist between you and me/ but now that I'm alone/ I'm not sure what I have seen"). "Mia Noelle," a sweet, playful song about the titular child, is a nice break from the melancholy, but is musically still hardly a split from Kozelek's cool shadow.