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Impressive and engaging new CD ‘Edge of Time’

7/13/2014
Singer-songwriter Abby Lappen
Impressive and engaging new CD ‘Edge of Time’
By John Mason
Columbia-Greene Media

Her new CD, “Edge of Time,” combines spare, inventive guitar backing with inventive and idiosyncratic songs in a variety of moods and styles. The predominant mode is introspection, though there are political moments, and human relationships play a big role.
Much of the pleasure of the songs is in her play with language. In “Another Blue Moon,” the opening image, “A single wisp of wool seems to me to be blown From a blanket of blue out on the line,” is transmuted in the following verse to “A single wisp of wood seems to be safe beneath a blanket of blue violet flame,” and in a later verse, “A single whim of mine, it took me by surprise, Beneath a blanket of blue with you.” The guitar accompaniment mirrors the imagery: An ascending, then descending bass line suggests the umbrella/blanket container motif that runs through the song. “Now I’m dancing, dancing a tempera- mental tango inside this heart of mine” suggests the inside/outside dichotomy that runs through the song – as in the line, “sometimes in silence, I feel outspoken” - and throughout the CD. Also running through the CD is the technique of ringing changes on lines and images to suggest the variability and dialogic nature of the imagination.
In “Canyons,” this dichotomy takes on the shape of memory and regret vs. acceptance of the present. Again the alteration: “Clear as I tell you, I wanted to stay” becomes “Clear as I tell you I wanted to leave.” The longing for the past is clear in “Take a look, take a second look.” As the song goes on, “Canyons are calling me,” the siren of the past, becomes “Canyons’ cacophony...Clearly the answer’s deep inside of me.” The movement toward reconciliation is embodied in old man time’s ability to kick up a jig, “Clear as a fern head unraveling, clear as a hobo keeps traveling on.” One of the more melodic songs on the CD, “Canyons” suggests a kinship with Nancy Griffith.
“Virtual Kindness” takes a different approach to the past vs. present theme, as well as to song-writing. Here the song is about journals tossed into a Dumpster, and the lyrics have the impressionistic style of a journal. They conjure a past of “Dumpster madness” before “virtual” kisses and walls, when words could be hauled away like construction debris, a time of blacking out the pain like a freight train. The guitar has a quiet, syncopated beat – referenced in the line “And a call for help is as constant as an Afro-Haitian beat” — that goes with the beatnik-hobo gestalt of the song.
“Cake Rising” also has a Beat aesthetic, wandering from playful thought to thought, from the miniscule — “You could count some sheep just to get inside that dream,” – to the grandiose: “you can build a union, an army corps of drum and fife.” It follows a classic blues scale and progression. The lyrics play with the notion of building, extending it from building a house to a cake to inner peace and everything in between. Note: when it sounds like she’s singing “You can’t build a song” and “You can’t just breathe and let yourself be,” she’s really saying you “can” do those things, according to the lyrics enclosed in the CD. Like most of the songs, it has a hopeful, upbeat message.
The only song not composed by Lappen is the classic Gerry Goffin/Carole King number, “Take a Giant Step,” originally performed by the Monkees and definitively by Taj Mahal. Lappen’s version is closer to Mahal than Monkees, but trades away some of the infectious beat for a quiet, meditative song/letter, with bass and treble guitar counterpointing the understated melody. The improvised whistling on the instrumental break deepens the personal feel of the cover.
Lappen is an accomplished artist. She is the whole show on this CD, playing all the accompaniments and singing every note. There are 13 songs all told, and it’s a very impressive, lovely and engaging collection.





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