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Love Comes Quietly

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Album Review

Love Comes Quietly, issued on Leni Stern's own LSR imprint — thank God she was smart and got off the label-chasing bandwagon years ago to do exactly what she wanted to do — is her 15th album proper. The debate has simmered down about her choice to sing and write songs outside the genre, and whether or not she can actually sing. How pitiful. Stern is an artist. Pure and simple. Love Comes Quietly is a collection of very poetic songs about tenderness. It is gentle, open, and therefore vulnerable. Think about it: tenderness. There are four instrumentals here, out of 13 tracks. She collaborates with musicians such as bassist James Genus, drummer Keith Carlock, slide guitarist Stephen Bruton (associated with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to the two Bobs, Dylan and Neuwirth), Alejandro Escovedo, violinist Ernesto Villa Lobos, and many others. Stern thanks the late poet Robert Creeley in her acknowledgements; Creeley is a pointer for these songs. His poetry was cut to the bone, it dissected the marrow of subject, emotion, and impulse and wove that essence into something charged with a quiet, insistent energy that was a kind of ethereal force. You entered his world if you encountered his words at all. These songs do the same. For the most part, they are stripped-down, skeletal almost, translucent. Production is far from studio-perfect-standard. These songs have energy, a roughewn grace, and above all, they are emotion itself. There isn't an insincere moment here. Stern opens the record with "Cheyenne," an acoustic ballad rooted in the English-c*m-Appalachian folk tradition. She extrapolates it to include her own muted electric guitar solo, Villa Lobos violin, and the bansuri flute of Steve Gorn in the margins. Simply put, "Have Faith in Me" is among the more beautiful love songs to be recorded in a few years. Walking the line between Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones, Stern colors the tune with impressionstic tones using her Rhodes guitar, a violin, and backing vocals. It resonates and floats all at the same time, its lyric cutting away metaphor to reach inside. She gets into the rocking blues groove on "Beauty Queen," and moves back and forth through jazz and folk in the title track, with Gorn's flute adding depth and dimension to the body of the tune. "Inshallah" is the album's strangest track in that it melds Middle Eastern mode and Gypsy-Spanish melodies. It is Villa Lobos' violin that is the force driving the cut. It's a story-song, different from anything else here. You'll either love it or hate it. Then there's her reading of the traditional Indian ballad "Rseke Bare Tore Nain," which she first heard on the soundtrack to Monsoon Wedding. The back to back cuts "The Road to Hell" and "Angelina" are beautifully crafted, adult alternative, jazzy pop with a funky backbone, though the lyrics are poignant in both tunes. The disc ends with "Carolina," an instrumental that melds, again, North African drone with traditional blues and folk elements to create a way of moving toward silence. The violin of Villa Lobos offers the balance to the bansuri and creates two different emotions simultaneously: sadness at leaving, and the quiet, nostalgic feeling of returning home. Even in her instrumentals, Stern offers a sense of humble yet mysterious adventure to the listener. Love Comes Quietly is the most poetic and realized of Stern's recordings. This would be a fine place to introduce yourself to a musician of uncommon caliber and vision.


Born: 28 April 1952 in Germany

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Leni Stern, who has received more recognition for her composing than her guitar playing, has managed to carve out her own musical personality despite being married to fellow guitarist Mike Stern (a potentially dominant influence). She began classical piano lessons when she was six, but was much more inspired a few years later when she discovered a guitar in the attic and taught herself to play jazz. Stern's early years were actually spent as an actress in her native Germany, featured on a national...
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Love Comes Quietly, Leni Stern
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