With a new president and a slightly more optimistic national outlook, you'd think there wouldn't be much for your ordinary, everyday protest singer to still rail about. Apparently nobody has told that to Delray's favorite folkie, Rod MacDonald. Though its title might suggest some sort of post-conflict resolution, After the War revolves around a whole litany of issues that have yet to be resolved. His opening diatribe, "Opening Disclaimer," has a timely premise – the shirking of responsibility and the government's penchant for making excuses for its mistakes – but a somewhat clumsy presentation. MacDonald spews his words out in a jumbled fashion with little regard for nuance or rhyme, as if he's more intent on venting his views than engaging listeners. Fortunately he amends his stance later with standouts such as "Two Americans," "Soldiers," and "Every Living Things." These particular melodies seem more stirring, making for a more palatable and profound experience overall.
Still, MacDonald creates the most emphatic impression when he sidesteps issues altogether and opts instead to swoon and croon. The elegiac ballads "For the People," "Days of Rain," "Ballerina," "The Coming of the Snow," and "I'll Walk in the Highlands" capture a sense of time and place, painting evocative soundscapes with true folk finesse. This proves that for all of the album's proselytizing, the best moments in After the War are those when MacDonald appears at peace.
Born and raised in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho), New York-based classically trained singer/songwriter Nancy Newlis hardly seems primed for pop contention. After all, how many of today's rock wannabes can claim a college scholarship at age 16 and subsequent acceptance to the University of Miami studio music and jazz program? Even as an undergraduate, Newlis concentrated more on so-called serious music, having earned a place in UM's jazz vocal ensemble as well as inclusion in a pair of EMI Records compilations featuring her compositions.
Eventually she shifted her stance toward rock and returned to Russia, where she garnered a fair amount of fame. But Newlis has reason for optimism stateside. Dreamers 2009 is a fine showcase for her husky vocals — no hint of fragile feminist mystique for this young lady — and a supple keyboard caress. She has an obvious penchant for dramatic torch songs: "Social Standing" sounds like it could have been plucked from a Broadway musical. And still her ability to wring emotion from tenuous sentiments leaves a lasting impression. Nevertheless, the best of the six songs is the opener, "Dreamers." It's an ebullient, engaging offering that suggests whimsy and reality can make a tidy meld when imbued with passion and purpose.
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