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Snider: Penelope

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Customer Reviews

A different kind of Odyssey

Last night was Halloween. A night for lost spirits and ghosts to try to find their way back home. A fitting night to listen to “Penelope”, the new album by Sarah Kirkland Snider. Co-written by playwright Ellen McLaughlin, this haunting song cycle tells the story of a man coming home from an unnamed war after twenty years to find his wife still waiting for him. He is a shell of his former self with no memory of life before his traumas other than the structure of his old house.

With beautiful and disturbing instrumentation providing the background, Penelope, gorgeously voiced by Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond, reads the text of Homer’s “The Odyssey” in an attempt to bring her “Odysseus” back to her. It is a heart wrenching story that unfortunately is very fitting with the times we live in today.

Brad Lubman conducts the fantastic modern chamber ensemble Signal from New York who performs the score. With semi-traditional strings and harp aided by guitars, electric bass, drums and computer programming “Penelope” is rich with challenging texture that evolves and from eerie whispers to rushes of tidal wave like explosions. Worden’s voice drifts gently over the top of this brewing storm much like Odysseus’ ship lost at sea.

After the trick or treaters had long gone to bed last night, I lay in bed with headphones on and eyes closed lost inside of Snider’s melancholy world. Strange dreams of creaky old Victorian houses and faded white dressing gowns whipping through storm blown windows slowly crept along the inside of my eyelids as I listened. I was struck by the raw emotions brought to the surface in this music’s plaintive beauty.

“Penelope” is not something I would consider listening to every day, but it is important and vital listening. It is a powerful story told in a unique and thoughtful manner that pulls no emotional punches. Taking a fresh turn on Homer’s enduring story, the core of the tale is the strength and unflinching resolve of true love. That willingness to fight through whatever horrors cut and scar and let love persevere and triumph. Though it may not leave you unchanged, it is indeed a beautiful thing.


New Amsterdam Records is enjoying many releases this year and seems to be creating a certain style or brand. Many of the releases I've heard this year feature composers that combine both classical and rock/pop elements. Penelope is no exception, but is the most convincing attempt from the label so far. Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider writes this song cycle for alto voice, a chamber string orchestra, drum set, and electric guitar among other things. One limitation all of these records have so far is a loss of rock music feeling. More clearly, a lot of these albums add drum set or other rock instruments but often it comes off as stale and too Dream Theater for my tastes. That is where Penelope differs.

These songs pull off the chamber pop sound while keeping hold of the rock feeling in the drums and guitars. Probably the most successful composer that does this is Clint Mansell in The Fountain soudtrack, but Snider is a close second. The Lotus Eaters is the best example of Snider's control both compositionally and emotionally. Snider's string writing is quite stunning and Shara Worden's voice clearly floats above these lush textures. The drums and guitar are not distracting, but add a nice element to the composite sound.

New Amsterdam should be proud to release their most convincing album that has equal footholds in the classical and pop worlds.

Buy this

Rarely today will you find an album worth buying. This, this you must buy. Shara is a siren, and Snider is Homer.

Words cannot express how amazing this album is. I can't pick a favorite song because every song is so beautifully well done. Everything is done so elegantly and lucidly, every track is like a lullaby. I'm proud just to say I own this. It's such a privilege just to listen to it.

Buy it.

Snider: Penelope, Shara Worden
View in iTunes
  • $9.99
  • Genres: Classical, Music
  • Released: Oct 01, 2010

Customer Ratings