Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Love in All Its Many Forms—A Review of Craig Sonnefeld’s Heart of a Man

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all (Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam)

Given a choice between grief and nothing, I’d choose grief (William Faulkner)


I stated in my 2006 review of Craig’s first two CDs—Reverie (recorded in 2004 and produced by Steve Rapson) and Storm Clouds Rising from 2005 
(New Roots Records, www.newrootsrecords.com), produced by Craig and Steve Friedman, that he “seems to have thought a lot about the comings and goings, the joys and sorrows of Love, as any poetic folksinger must.” This bears out in Craig’s newest release, Heart of a Man (2007) produced by Steve Friedman at Melville Park Studio, Boston, MA and put out by New Roots Records (www.newrootsrecords.com).

Friedman has done an outstanding job. The recording is very crisp and clear. Each note is distinct and the instruments played by Craig’s talented group of guest musicians are mixed together beautifully, accentuating Craig’s own rich playing and the simplicity and strength of his lyrics (Craig wrote all of the songs on the CD). 
Heart of a Man continues Craig’s pattern of having no more than two other musicians playing on any given song and it works as well as on his last disc.

Craig has taken the time to write short thematic descriptions of each of the songs in the liner notes, so I will keep my own remarks brief as well.

“Diamond Dove” is a Celtic-flavored ballad (a strength of Craig’s), featuring alto flute by Billy Novick and mandolin by Steve Sadler. Craig’s playing is crisp and clean, setting the tone for what’s to come. As Craig says in the liner notes, it truly is bittersweet.

“Hills of Wicklow” also appeared on Craig’s 2004 CD Reverie, and was rerecorded for this collection with guest harmony vocals by Debra Cowan. As I said in my review last year, this song brings to mind the ballads of Andy M. Stewart and Tommy Sands. “Hills of Wicklow” tells the tale of a young man sailing off to find his fortune after losing his love to another. There is a terrible irony that the bells of Saint Catherine, which signify for the couple that they are wed, mean for the young man that he truly has lost his love for good.

“Lately” explores the pains of a dying love when you can’t fix it, as much as you may want to or even try and features mandolin by Steve Sadler and Valerie Thompson on cello (both of whom played on Storm Clouds Rising).

“Since You Said We’re Through” has an old blues/jazz influence and is my favorite song on the CD, thanks to the impressively expressive and fun clarinet work by Billy Novick. You’ll want to play this one over and over again.

Valerie Thompson’s cello is again a highlight on “I’m No Longer Waiting (for Your Love to Come Around).” Her playing and Craig’s are seamlessly intertwined in a dark, minor scale piece with a great deal of atmosphere.

The next two songs, although very different, both showcase Craig’s guitar playing. “Can’t Go Back Again” is really a wisdom of the ages piece that first brought to mind the two quotes I used to open this review while “Lucky So-and-So” is an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek romp that shows off Craig’s lyrical wit and skill as a writer and guitarist. You’ll get a good chuckle from the lyrics.

“New Love Song” again features Valerie Thompson on cello and looks at the positive side of love as inspired by Craig’s wife. The lyrics (“A puppet dangling on a silver string.” “A desert flower that will bloom at dawn.” “A mountain stream that has a taste like wine.”) remind me of the poetic images of Harry Chapin’s songs.

“Brand New Day” shares the haunting atmosphere and thoughts about time at sea present in my favorite of Craig’s songs, “Lighthouse,” from Storm Clouds Rising. As simple as it is, “But when the sun comes up tomorrow/it’s gonna be a brand new day” is a powerful thought for these times. The song features Paul Shaheen’s beautiful keyboards.

“Heart of a Man,” the title track, was inspired by Craig’s friend Marc Gold, who runs the online charity www.100friends.com. I had heard about this project some years ago (it has been going strong for 18 years now) and I encourage you to check it out. Marc has done some amazing work. This song is a celebration of his larger work and a more contained but equally important instance of giving his gloves to a beggar on a city street. Paul Shaheen’s keyboards and Valerie Thompson’s cello contribute a great deal to the overall feel of the song, which is a notable celebration of the positive in an age of rampant negativity. My favorite lyric from the song is: “From my solitary tower/I look down at the abyss/I can see this world is suffering/so many ways I cannot list.”

Heart of a Man and Craig’s other CDs are available through his website, www.craigsonnenfeld.com, where you can also read some other reviews and find out some cool things about Craig.

You can also read my review of Craig’s previous two CDs at www.newmystics.com and at newmysticsreviews.blogspot.com