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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/19/2012)
Though it has almost no visibility in today's commercial media world, the new folk scene continues to flourish with many outstanding singer-songwriters plying their trade. It's almost an overabundance of first-rate folkies with good original songs and an appealing performing style. So it takes something special to stand out. More often than not, fans will discover an artist through live their performances, rather than any media exposure outside of some eclectic public radio stations.
This week we have the latest release by an artist with a difficult name and an interesting back story. It's Antje Duvekot, and her new third recording is called New Siberia.
Antje Duvekot is a native of Heidelburg, Germany. Her family fell apart when she was 13, separated from her father and brother. She ended up in Delaware, a teenaged girl thrust into a new culture, not speaking English at first, and separated from the things she grew up with. It's an experience that has colored a number of her songs over the years. She attended the University of Delaware and lived in New York for a short time, and then Vermont before settling in the Boston area where she is currently based. She cites some of the classic folk artists as key influences, such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen.
Ms. Duvekot soon began to attract attention from a number of significant artists, including Seamus Egan of the band Solas, who produced her debut album Big Dream Boulevard. Her second release, issued in 2009, The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer was produced by another significant figure on the contemporary folk scene, Richard Shindell, who also did the same duties on the new recording New Siberia.
Ms. Duvekot has become fine lyricist, and her vocal style is instantly appealing. The new CD is marked by very tasteful arrangements. About the lyrics, Ms. Duvekot says that the songs are "wiser," adding that "they have an age to them that should resonate with anyone who's struggled through a difficult period and come out better." Most of the lyrics are subtle and indirect, but there are some songs that are autobiographical, including one about her apparently difficult relationship with her mother, and a more light-hearted one about not fitting into high school, being a recent arrival from Germany.
In addition to Richard Shindell, who adds his guitar and vocal harmonies, the CD includes some backing musicians who are familiar names to fans of the new folk scene, including drummer Ben Wittman, who has worked with Paul Simon and Jonatha Brooke, and guitarist Marc Shulman, who has recorded with Suzanne Vega. Bassists include Scott Petito and Lincoln Schleifler, and notable folkie John Gorka puts in some backing vocals. The musical settings range from traditionally acoustic folk style to rather atmospheric.
The CD opens with Into the City, an attractive piece in waltz time with rather intriguing lyrics. The track nicely sums up the sound of the CD and the complexion of Ms. Duvekot's music. <<>>
A bit of aviation history is explored on the song Ballad of Fred Noonan, who was lost aviator Amelia Earhart's navigator on her ill-fated trip around the world. The song speculates on the relationship between Erhart and Noonan. <<>>
The Life of a Princess is a kind of allegorical song about running into disappointments trying to fulfill dreams of making music. <<>>
The song about having trouble fitting in among cliques in high school is called Glamorous Girls. The composition has a bit more depth and musical creativity than other songs that have been written on a similar subject. <<>>
Ms Duvekot says that the composition Phoenix took her 20 years to write, dealing as it does with her relationship with her mother. The musical setting meshes well with the bittersweet lyrics. <<>>
Rather different in mood is a song called The Perfect Date, with a surprisingly poppish sound. It's the story of a first date that had a lot of things go wrong, but which was the start of a happy relationship. <<>>
The title track, New Siberia on the other hand has an intimate, acoustic folk setting. It's a kind of convoluted love song. <<>>
John Gorka makes his backing vocal appearance on a track called Sleepy Sea of Indigo and Blue, a very pretty love song that has hints of bluegrass and country influence. <<>>
Antje Duvekot's new self-released third CD New Siberia is the epitome of what a good singer-songwriter record should be. The songs are high in quality with literate, poetic lyrics, and pleasing musical compositions that go beyond the usual simple folk tunes. Ms. Duvekot is a very appealing vocalist with a style a bit reminiscent of Jonatha Brooke, and the arrangements and production by Richard Shindell are very tasteful, enhancing the songs and adding sonic interest without distracting or getting into the kind of cliches that can often be heard on contemporary singer-songwriter records. Ms. Duvekot writes about some more personal topics this time around, but does it in an indirect way so that it does not come across as being self-absorbed.
The CD also get a high grade from me for its sonic quality. It's well recorded, especially Ms. Duvokot's vocals, and the mix adds the right amount of atmospheric quality to match the mood of the songs. The recording has better dynamic range, reproducing the range of loud and soft, than most current CDs. The sound is not cranked up with heavy-handed compression.
There are a lot of good singer-songwriters in the world right now, so it's hard for a recording like New Siberia to be noticed, especially one that is self-released. Ms. Duvekot tours and performs widely, including in Europe, and that seems to be the most effective way to develop audiences for the genre, indeed her fans helped finance the making of this CD through the Kickstarter website. But whatever the circumstances behind the recording, Antje Duvekot's New Siberia is very much a worthwhile new release that should delight many a fan of literate singer-songwriters.
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