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Category: rock music

A Prescient, Indomitable Final Album From Jewlia Eisenberg’s Charming Hostess

“There was a doctor, there was a teacher, but the doctor didn’t care about illness, and the teacher didn’t care about teaching,” Charming Hostess frontwoman Jewlia Eisenberg sang, to open her radical circus rock band’s final album, The Ginzburg Geographies. In the context of 2022, the irony could not be more crushing.

Eisenberg died on 3/11 last year, four months after the Covid shot rollout. She’d been in precarious health for quite some time before. Nonetheless, the indomitable singer and musical polymath had continued to perform and work on a vast series of projects right up until the 2020 lockdown. It’s something of a miracle that she got as far as she did with the album, which her bandmates finished without her last year.

It’s collection of wildly original arrangements of Italian protest songs, an exploration of the territory that nurtured and eventually destroyed the marriage between World War II-era Italian antifascist activists and writers Natalia and Leone Ginzburg, Hounded and pursued by axis forces, the two managed to evade and outlive Mussolini, but Leone was murdered by the Nazis. His widow would go on to serve in the Italian parliament in the decades after the war.

If you count their college days, Charming Hostess enjoyed a career that lasted almost thirty years, on and off. They went through many incarnations, from proto Gogol Bordello punk to feminist klezmer. Here, they do a strikingly faithful evocation of an anarchic Italian street band from seventy years ago, while also putting their own spin on retro 70s Italian film music in a Tredici Bacci vein . Eisenberg took several of the couple’s texts and used them to create a playlist of brooding, accordion-fueled psychedelia, oom-pah blue-collar protest songs and skittishly subversive bedroom pop. A girl protests against household drudgery, over a swaying, accordion-fueled backdrop. “Authority has no value,” Eisenberg reminds. Guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood jangles through some heartbreakingly beautiful interludes behind Eisenberg’s delicate multitracks. Much of this is on the phantasmagorical side, which makes plenty of sense considering the context. There’s also a ramshackle, bluegrass-flavored cover of a classic Woody Guthrie antifascist song.

The best number on the album is La Situazione, a slinky, shuffling, distantly creepy psychedelic rock shuffle fueled by Dan Cantrell’s roller-rink organ. The gist of Leone’s text is that it is Italians’ duty not to give in to alarmism and instead to dig in and fight while the Nazis roll into Rome. You want prophetic?

Eisenberg was outrageously funny, earthy and sometimes combative. Yet that feisty persona was a manifestation of her deeply liberational Jewish spirituality. She wrote film and theatre music, took a plunge into Babylonian mysticism and late in her career revisited her inner soul and blues sirens: she was a lot of those. Eisenberg didn’t just think outside the box: that box existed only as a target for her surrealist wit…or to be destroyed. How cruel that we’ll never know what else she might have had up her sleeve.

Faithless Town Release the Best Freedom Anthem of 2022 So Far

There’s been a lot of great freedom music released this year, but the best song of the bunch so far is Atlanta band Faithless Town‘s Live Free. It’s a defiantly swaying protest anthem, a mashup of ELO and peak-era Oasis, a bittersweet symphony for 2022. Frontman/guitarist Gene Owens reminds that now is not the time to be riding the fence:

Open your eyes
And see the lies
That you’ve been told
Your mind doesn’t belong to you anymore
Fear is not a virtue
It’s time to be brave
Do you wanna live free or die as a slave’

And the video is inspiring, a montage largely taken from the Highwire coverage of the London protests last summer.

The song is the centerpiece of the band’s new album Into The Light Vol.1, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the first part of a full-length record that’s on track to be finished later this summer. The band have been through some personnel changes, but the current lineup of Owens with Aaron Rogers on lead guitar, Nathan Rudolf on bass and Vic Fischer on drums is arguably their strongest ever. Owens’ smartly crafted tunesmithing spans from punkabilly to Americana to lyrical, singalong stadium rock, occasionally bolstered by organ or strings behind the twin-guitar attack.

The opening track is Berkshire, a stomping, Celtic-tinged punk tune that brings to mind Stiff Little Fingers or Wormburner. The group follow with Not Goodbye, a soaring, bittersweet anthem in the same vein, with a tantalizing, slashing Rogers guitar solo at the center

What I’m Dreaming Of is a swaying, distantly Beatlesque, midtempo salute to being openminded in an era of endless divide-and-conquer: “Don’t trust the TV, don’t believe your feed,” Owens cautions. The band take a detour into a vein they explored earlier in their career with Coal Mining Man, a Nashville gothic-flavored workingman’s lament about the decline of the domestic coal industry.

They go back to a Reducers-style garage-punk punch with Someone to Think Of and close the record with Do Not Comply, a relentless, hard-hitting, cynical singalong:

One shot to buy your freedom
Two shots to go outside
Three shots to see your family
Four shots and then you die
Do not comply
See through their lies
Do not comply or you’ll die

Faithless Town’s next gig is May 27 at 9 PM at Smith’s Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Ave NE in Atlanta with swamp rockers Handsome Jack; cover is $10.

Catchy Powerpop and Dark Female-Fronted Punk Sounds in Astoria This Friday Night

Giftshop have been one of New York’s most distinctively catchy bands for more than a decade. Under the best circumstances, that kind of tenacity is rare. At this point in history, it’s even more of an achievement that the punk/powerpop quartet not only survived the lockdown but managed to put out some great singles over the last several months. Frontwoman Meghan Taylor is bringing the band, her powerful pipes and simmering, sardonic songs to a gig on May 20 at 9 PM at the Shillelagh Tavern, 47-22 30th Ave. in Astoria; take the N/R to 46th St.

Giftshop are also the rare band who have figured out the marketing value in putting their studio work out as free downloads: truth in advertising. Their most recent album, Biginastoria, does not seem to be the least bit sarcastically titled. A previous release, Tourist Trap goes back to 2013, has a louder punk rock crunch.

The opening track, Left Right would have ruled the college airwaves if the band had existed thirty years earlier. It’s a snide antiauthoritarian blend of skittish late 70s XTC new wave with a harder-edged, syncopated New York stomp.

Shine is not the Psychedelic Furs classic but a catchy, slurry riff-rock anthem. Anything Anything is a throwback to Garbage (or Missing Persons, ten years before that), with a surprise bass solo.

Taylor sends a ridiculously funny shout-out to a distinctly New England breed of dirtbag party animal in Parking Lot Astronaut, then the band blast through You Can’t Make Me at practically hardcore speed. They wind up the record with C’mon, which seems designed for audience participation. This is a fun look back to a time when the group wasn’t quite so dark or complex; then again, that could be said for the world in general.

Whirlwind Violin Metal at a Favorite Uptown Spot Tonight

“Your prism is just a prison,” Stratospheerius frontman/violinist Joe Deninzon sings on the band’s latest single, Prism – streaming at Bandcamp – which they recorded live at the Progstock festival in New Jersey in 2019 . It’s surprisingly mellow for such a ferocious band, who dance through the tricky rhythms of this characteristically ambitious blend of 70s stadium rock and artsy metal with Andalucian violin flourishes. They survived the lockdown intact and are back tonight, May 12 at 11 PM at a favorite Manhattan spot, Shrine. The Harlem venue is a scruffy little place which is not known for being particularly organized. Considering the location, it’s highly unlikely that there are any apartheid door restrictions.

The band have another single from the Progstock show, Game of Chicken, which is also up at Bandcamp. Moving through clustering minor-key riffs, the band build to a ferocious guitar/violin duel on the way out. “Drowning in the false alarmers…Chicken Little is hungry for you, on your way to your alley of doom,” Deninzon sings: a prophetic statement from right around the time the Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins were staging Event 201, the final rehearsal for the 2020 plandemic.

A third single, Cognitive Dissonance, could be the Alan Parsons Project at their heaviest and most complicated.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Stratospheerius show, it was in late May, 2018 at Gold Sounds in Bushwick on a killer twinbill with another tyrannosaurus of a band, Book of Harmony. Tragically, there is no field recording of the show in the archive here, although Book of Harmony did have the presence of mind to put several songs from a Drom show earlier that year up at youtube. Their band’s lone album is still up at Soundcloud: serendipitously, the oceanic first track is titled Echoes of Freedom. Less serendipitously, the band did not survive the lockdown.

That album features the band’s original singer, Leah Martin. By the time the group reached Bushwick, they had a new singer, an Asian woman with a dramatic intensity that may have been influenced by pansori or kabuki theatre. Bandleader/lead guitarist Anupam Shobhakar is also an accomplished sarod player and has a background in Indian music, which translated less in terms of riffage than long, labyrinthine, rhythmically impossible tone poems that seemed to go on for fifteen minutes at a clip.

If memory serves right, Stratospheerius headlined (the master concert list here isn’t clear on that). Deninzon was a whirlwind onstage, leaping down into the crowd and firing off lightning, Romany-flavored cascades of notes while the band pounced and roared behind him. The metal intensity grew as the show went on, the guitarist’s flurries of tapping entwined with Deninzon’s shivery, supersonic volleys. The crowd grew slowly, to the point where Deninzon actually had to dodge audience members as he spun across the floor in front of the stage. He may have to stay put at Shrine where there is less room for those kind of shenanigans.

Singles For the Second Week of May: Mega-Laughs and Some Creepy Stuff

Been awhile since the last collection of singles on this page: with so much more happening around town these days, it’s been harder to keep an eye on the rest of the world. Today’s self-guided playlist has about 25 minutes worth of music and a ridiculously funny thread to wind this up. As always, click artist names for their webpages, click titles for audio or video. Suggestion: download the Brave browser to avoid the hassle of having to mute the ads in the youtube clips.

In what is fast becoming a time-honored tradition, let’s open with one of Media Bear‘s signature snarky plandemic-themed cover songs. This one, mRNA is one of the funniest of the bunch. It’s a remake of YMCA, the big 1970s disco hit by the Village People. “Hey man, if you do not comply, contact tracers they will be stopping by…you must learn how to kneel, comply with the Green New Deal.”

Thanks to John C.A. Manley, author of the novel Much Ado About Corona, for passing along Martin Kerr’s smart, funky, sharp chamber-folk hit Little Screen, probably the only song ever to rhyme “creative” with “sedative.”

You don’t need to read the news today, it’s mostly lies
If you wanna know you’re not alone,
Get your fingers off your phone,
Get up out of your comfort zone and improvise..

Chillantro, by Miranda & the Beat is a cool minor-key fuzztone surf b-side that the band bravely put out in the ugly depths of May 2020…and sank without a trace

Let’s slow it down but keep the Lynchian ambience going with Natalie Saint-Martin‘s 2nd Place. It’s minor-league Hannah vs the Many – an understudy’s lament set to a phantasmagorical piano waltz

Tantalos, by Kuhn Fu is eight creepy minutes of 21st century cinematic big band jazz built around an allusive, macabre guitar loop. Dig that pregnant pregnant pause at 3:20!

Former Turkuaz frontwoman Nicky Egan‘s This Life is twinkly, vampy oldschool 70s soul with clangy guitar and echoey minor-key Rhodes piano

Check out this very subtle anti-lockdown video for Belgian pop star Angèle‘s latest single, Libre. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just bimbo synthpop – watch the costume change after the second chorus. She’s sick of falling into “Les pièges de fous….libre libre, crois-moi ça va changer (“The lunatics’ traps – we’re free, we’re free, believe me this is gonna change.”)

Just for the record: this is a diehard anti-social media blog. Elon Musk is a creep, and Twitter is not a place you want to be found, ever, unless you want to be surveilled. That being said, here’s Eugyppius – one of the best Substackers out there – on the benefits of Zoom versus real-world academic conferences. The thread just gets funnier and funnier

An Aptly Restless Album and a Red Hook Gig From Genre-Defying Pianist Gabriel Zucker

Pianist Gabriel Zucker has carved out a distinctive niche as a leader in the New York improvisational music scene. He is an anomaly in that he has a strong neoromantic classical sensibility, and likes to both muddy the water (or clear the skies) with electronics. His songs can be incredibly tuneful one moment and messy the next. His latest album Leftover Beats, was recorded live in the studio on the Fourth of July, 2019 is streaming at Bandcamp and is more of an art-rock record. David Bowie and Radiohead are the most obvious influences.

Zucker’s spare, lingering, wistful phrases quickly dissolve in a chaotic whirlpool as the album’s title track gets underway, guitarist Tal Yahalom’s dissociative phrasing sliding closer to the center as drummer Alex Goldberg drives this babelogue upward to A Day in the Life, more or less.

The group follow a bit of a Radiohead-flavored interlude into the second number, Shallow Times and its snidely loopy late 70s Bowie-esque art-rock drama. Yahalom slips into the skronky Adrian Belew role.

“I used to write so much more than I do, I used to fall in love so much more than I do,” Zucker intones with more than a hint of angst in Songbird, a bittersweet ballad livened with Goldberg’s tumbling drums. It’s the missing link between the Grateful Dead and peak-era mid-zeros Botanica.

The trio veer from a lingering ballad to a cascading art-rock crush in Someone to Watch You, Part 2. Drunken Calypso definitely sounds drunken but not particular Caribbean, each band member squirreling their way toward an emphatic unity, Predictably, Zucker completely flips the script with an attractive take of the Dirty Projectors’ Impregnable Question, a ballad without words. He returns to a mashup of Radiohead, Botanica and jazz poetry to wind up the record with Someone to Watch You, Part 3.

Zucker’s next gig is May 15 at 7 PM at the Red Hook Record Store on Van Brunt just before you hit Pioneer; it’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the front of the downtown F train at Carroll St. Take First Place all the way to Summit, go over the pedestrian bridge, make a u-turn and then follow Summit past the playground triangle and hang a left on Van Brunt.

Charismatic Road Warriors Frenchy & the Punk Bring Their High Energy Show to Queens This Evening

Before the lockdown, Frenchy & the Punk were one of the hardest-working bands touring the world. The duo of singer/dancer Samantha Stephenson and guitarist Scott Helland got their start when steampunk was all the rage and have since taken a turn in a harder-rocking direction than their original mix of noir cabaret and circus rock. The good news is that they’re playing again, with a show tonight, May 8 at 5 PM on the trailer in the back of the parking lot at Culture Lab in Long Island City.

Their most recent single, The Storm Is a Call For Rebuilding, is a rousing, Celtic-tinged protest song from the desperate days of August, 2020:

Watch who the leaders trample on
You might be next if in the way of their throne
Hear their words but judge on what they’ve done
It’s too easy to sway the unguarded
Oh, dance in the rain but see beyond the fog…

The single before that was a biting acoustic-electric cover of the Nerves’ Hanging on the Telephone, which beats the more famous Blondie version.

The band’s most recent album is Hooray Beret, which came out in 2019. They really mix it up on this one. The opening number is an unexpectedly successful detour into funk. From there they go into a lot of riffy powerpop in a more acoustic Joan Jett vein, Stephenson’s throaty wail over Helland’s punchy guitar and bass multitracks.

In the middle of all that, there’s Sing, bouncy cautionary tale that’s the band’s equivalent of Pink Floyd’s Time. There’s Monsters, a brisk but ominously pulsing take on the acoustic goth pop Siouxsie took with Christine. “They’ve disguised themselves as shepherds….it’s up to us to break the cycle,” Stephenson insists.

Stephenson switches to her native French for Oo La La, a catchy blend of vintage Squeeze and All Along the Watchtower. Onstage, Helland plays with a loop pedal, giving the duo a louder, lusher sound than most two-piece acts. Fun fact: Helland’s solo work is 180 degrees from his high-energy attack in this project. His instrumental loopmusic albums are fantastic if you like ambient, ethereal sounds.

A Sophisticated, Cleverly Lyrical, Climactic Studio Album From Paris Combo

Paris Combo take care to explain that their latest and possibly final album Quesaco – streaming at Bandcamp – is Covid-free. Notwithstanding the record’s characteristically slinky good cheer, there’s a tragic backstory. Like so many albums recorded in 2019, it was scheduled for release the following year. But their tour fell victim to the totalitarian takeover, and frontwoman/accordionist Belle de Berry died s that fall, soon after a cancer diagnosis. Would she be alive today if there had been no lockdown and she could have received early treatment? We’ll never know.

At least she went out at the top of her game. The band open with the album’s title track, Provençal slang for “what’s up?” It’s a lush, Balkan-tinged swing nocturne packed with cynical rhymes, beginning with a sun, who as du Berry tells it, doesn’t give a fuck about the approaching nightfall. It aptly capsulizes her indomitable, deviously playful worldview.

Paris Combo first took shape as a Romany-tinged swing band but quickly developed a distinctively upbeat, often witheringly satirical blend of sophisticated art-rock, jazz manouche and cinematic pop. Including this one, they put out a grand total of seven albums: all of them are worth getting your hands on.

The second track on this one is Barre Espace, du Berry’s gently caustic commentary on the atomization that inevigtably awaits those who abandon the real world for the virtual one. Bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac, drummer François Jeannin and percussionist Rémy Kaprielan lay down a pillowy. understated cumbia groove for pianist David Lewis and guitarist Potzi.

They stroll briskly through Seine de la vie parisienne, du Berry’s puns beginning with the title, Potzi taking a spiky, Djangoesque solo midway through. She reaches for a reggaeton-inspired delivery over Lewis’ organ and trumpet in Panic á bord (rough translation: Breaking Point), a bouncy but brooding Balkan/cumbia mashup.

Maudit money (Damn Money) is part hip-hop, part oldschool 70s disco, part Manu Chao, with a wry Nancy Sinatra reference. Du Berry holds off on the WWI references until the end of Premiére guerre as she contemplates a more psychological, interior battle, rising from balmy and lingering to a triumphant strut and then back.

Shivery strings and soaring trumpet interchange in Axe imaginaire (Imaginary Path, or close to it), a subtle battle-of-the-sexes metaphor. The band go back to a disco stroll in Cap ou pas cap (slang for “yes or no?”), Lewis’ trumpet sputtering and Potzi’s guitar spiraling over a sleek backdrop and du Berry’s coy enticement.

Guitar and trumpet reach for a simmering flamenco ambience over a suspenseful, cumbia-tinged groove in Tendre émoi (this one’s hard to translate: “tender confrontation” or “make a scene, tenderly” would work, prosaically). Du Berry takes a rare turn into English on track ten, Do you think, as the band go back to a bittersweet cumbia sway. They close the record with the low-key, reflective Romany swing shuffle Paresser par ici (rough translation: Hanging Around). Maybe someday if we’re lucky we can get a retrospective live album out of this fantastic and underappreciated band. And even if we don’t, this is one of the best of 2022 so far.

Epic Americana Anthems and Sobering Narratives From Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters

At a time when most artists are struggling to get any music out at all, Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters are on a rare creative tear. They’re one of the very few bands in history to release two consecutive double albums (the Grateful Dead did it twice). Their bristling, epic Live at the Grey Eagle, recorded in their hometown of Asheville, North Carolina is one of the most compelling Americana releases of recent years. They pick right up where they left off with their vast new release The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, streaming at Soundcloud.

It’s a concept record: the first disc is generally upbeat, the second quiet and immersive. “Sometimes you’re drowning in the deep blue sea and you need the devil to pull you out,” is Platt’s explanation. There’s a lot of poignancy in her painterly narratives, none more than in the album’s opening track, New York. For anyone who’s been driven out of the city in the last two years, or is staring down that prospect, it will rip your face off. There’s a point right after the first chorus where pianist Kevin Williams takes a tentative little downward riff and leaves it dangling, unresolved, an elephant lost to memories.

Burn – as in “burn it down” – is a low-key Dusty Springfield-esque Memphis soul tune anchoring one of Platt’s signature, aphoristic portraits of rural anomie and discontent. She details the quick disollution of a couple who were way too quick to tie the knot in The Devil, a honkytonk shuffle that Matt Smith colors with his spare, sailing pedal steel.

Likewise, Dallas affords Williams a chance to color the downcast ambience with his vintage Nashville piano lines. There’s subtle mystery in Saint Sebastian, a surreal summer vacation tableau set to a tiptoeing mashup of vintage soul and Tex-Mex.

Bassist Rick Cooper and drummer Evan Martin kick in harder in the catchy backbeat anthem Great Confession, Smith’s tantalizingly brief Telecaster leads ringing out over Williams’ organ. Platt’s cynical sense of humor reaches redline in Girls Like You, a propulsive reminder that determined, individualistic women haven’t always been regarded as role models.

Platt reflects on the legacy effects of girls who can’t resist the wrong guys in Eurydice, a low-key oldschool country ballad. “I didn’t drink a bloody mary on the plane because I wanted you to see me how I was raised,” Platt’s emotionally conflicted narrator recalls in Perfect Word, a gorgeously bittersweet, brisk requiem. She winds up the first disc with Desert Flowers, a swaying cross-country tale that looks back to late 90s alt-country songwriters like Kim Richey.

Disc two begins with Open Up Your Door, an angst-fueled vintage Emmylou Harris-style ballad, just Platt’s vocals over Smith’s steel and Williams’ sparse electric piano. The band return cautiously for the similarly regret-laden Another Winter Gone, then slow down even further for Rabbit, a hypnotically swaying, gloomily imagistic portrait of rural decay.

Smith’s dobro lingers over Platt’s gentle fingerpicking and Williams’ judicious piano in Reverie, one of the more wryly funny narratives here. “They burned the city you loved…they talk about mercy, but you ain’t seen her face,” Platt sings in This Night, a defiant call to rebuild that may reference the BLM riots of 2020.

Platt keeps the drifting, starry milieu going in Even Good Men Get the Blues, lit up by a gorgeous Williams organ solo. She offers hope amidst disappointment in Always Knew, a front porch-flavored love song, then brings back the organ and angst in Lessons in Gravity, a makeup ballad.

The band sway their way through Only Just to Smile with a mid-70s Fleetwood Mac vibe and close this long, evocative album on a guardedly optimistic note with There May Come a Day. Their next affordable gig is May 25 at 7 PM at Potters Craft Cider, 1350 Arrowhead Valley Rd. in Charlottesville, Virginia. Advance tix are $20.

 

Mamak Khadem’s Rapturous New Album Transcends Tragedy and Loss

One of the most capriciously cruel effects of the post-2020 lockdowns was the separation of families from ailing, elderly parents. Because of totalitarian travel restrictions, singer Mamak Khadem was unable to return home to her native Iran to see her father before he died: divide-and-conquer taken to a particularly sadistic extreme. Khadem channeled her grief into an often wrenchingly beautiful, immersive tribute, Remembrance, streaming at youtube.

Although the album is characteristically eclectic and spans many genres, it’s 180 degrees from the exuberance and exhilaration of her previous release The Road, a 2016 brass-and-string fueled mashup of Balkan dances and classical Persian poetry. For whatever reason, this is more of an art-rock record.

The sound is more desolate and enveloping, sculpted largely by multi-instrumentalist Jamshied Sharifi, guitarist Marc Copely and cellist Chris Votek, with many other musicians contributing. Khadem sings in Farsi, opening with the title track. Mickey Raphael’s forlorn, bluesy minor-key harmonica is an unexpected touch in this slowly swaying setting of the Saadi Shirazi poem, Copely’s multitracks and Khadem’s imploring, melismatic vocals flickering over Sharifi’s atmospheric backdrop. It brings to mind peak-era, mid-zeros Botanica.

Khadem rises from a wary tenderness to fullscale angst in Mina, a brooding, drifting setting of a Saied Soltanpour text lowlit by Sharifi’s piano and Benjamin Wittman’s clip-clop percussion. Khadem goes to the Rumi repertoire for the lyrics to Entangled over dissociative, rhythmic layers of vocals, cello and wafting synthesized orchestration.

Khadem takes a backseat, contributing vocalese to Across the Oceans, Coleman Barks narrating the Rumi poem over a loopy, simple backdrop with spare contributions from Roubik Haroutunian on duduk and Ivan Chardakov on gaida bagpipes. Dead and Alive begins more calmly, in a pastoral Pink Floyd vein, then Copely pulls the energy skyward. It’s an apt poem for this point in history: one of its central themes is to be open to serendipity.

Khadem sets an emotive Fatemeh Baraghani poem to a starkly gorgeous traditional Armenian theme in Face to Face, Mehdi Bagheri adding ravishing, spiraling kamancheh fiddle. Copely plays spare resonator guitar behind Khadem’s warm, hopeful delivery in Messenger, Sharifi turning up the enveloping keyboard ambience. The final cut is Don’t Go Without Me: Barks’ English narration is especially poignant considering the circumstances, as is Khadem’s gentle, wounded interpretation of the original. As her harmonies rise in the distance, the effect is viscerally heartbreaking.