Church Of Sky

Shantala

Ancient Future Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/23/2004

I always get a little nervous when a CD arrives in the mail marked 'File under: Contemporary Folk/New Age.' It generally means that the promotions person for the label had no bloody clue what exactly it was, so threw it into a nice big genre and hoped somehow it would stick. Actual new age folk music is nice, sometimes even interesting, but usually another genre in disguise. However, this time I was wrong, and I admit it. Shantala -- otherwise known as New Age instrumentalist Benjy Wertheimer and his wife Heather on vocals -- is indeed New Age, is indeed folk, and is indeed rather lovely. Their latest CD nbtc__dv_250 Church Of Sky has a lot going for it, and is definitely worth a listen.

For starters, Heather can sing. I mean, really sing; she has a lovely breathy and precise alto that wraps around words like a lover's embrace and sends them winging their way into your soul. She can alternately be sultry and transcendent, playful and intense, and is a delight to listen to. Though I haven't heard a lot of Benjy Wertheimer's work, I have had some exposure to it, and he's a good instrumentalist and a great producer and engineer. That production shines on Church Of Sky; the Wertheimers working together create a recording that's stylish, delicate, and perfect, guitar strings and breathy vocals incredibly clear.

There's no getting around the fact, however, that this is primarily a showcase for Heather's songwriting skills, and they're pretty damn good. She has an astonishing capacity for turns of phrase (the lyrics to "Dance Me" alone are some of the most poetic -- and erotic -- I've heard in a very long time), and genuinely seems to have fun with words. Some people are poets first and musicians second; Heather Wertheimer seems to be one of them.

Other songs worth mention on Church Of Sky include the sweet and haunting "Etched In Stone," the poignant images of "Madrone," the triumphant title track, and the heartbreaking "Going Twice," which captures a lost parent in three minutes better than some works of art that take hours. Only on "There's No Safe Place" do the lyrics cross over from thought-provoking to perhaps a bit overly earnest; maybe that's me, as any song about the Holocaust for me suffers from comparison to Fred Small's "Denmark 1943."

Genres aside (and frankly, by the time I was done listening to this I decided it was particularly liberal newgrass and left it at that), Church Of Sky is a wonderful, wonderful piece of music and definitely worth a visit.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2004 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ancient Future Records, and is used for informational purposes only.