A Review by HEArt Music Editor, Mark Dignam
Me? I love people singing their own original songs. That’s just how I roll. I am in awe of those who can pull something brilliant out of thin air that just didn’t exist before. That’s Harry Potter stuff to my mind. People doing covers, to some degree, feels like cheating; unless, it’s something really different — and I don’t mean different as in, an old jazz standard looped through a fuzz box, with dogs, cats and babies screaming over it. No. I mean something that took some thought. Enter: “The Sessions Voices,” a seven piece female acapella group from Roma, Italy. Their project is a take on the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which at first, might make one flinch and say, “Not another one …” but hold on to your hats there folks, this one is different, but not obnoxiously so. It is handled elegantly, with the requisite reverence a standard from one of the biggest bands ever, deserves.
One might imagine Peter Gabriel out on the tear one night bumping into Paul McCartney and saying, “Maca, would you mind if I had a go at Blackbird?” Paul, having one or two on him, feeling warm and fuzzy replies, “I’ve always thought you were a bit strange, Peter, but you know what? Go for it.” None of this ever happened, of course, but “The Sessions Voices,” rendition goes some way to conjuring such an encounter.
McCartney first wrote the song in the spring of ’68 in response to the deterioration of race relations in the United States. The video content is timely, paying homage to the 1963 March on Washington D.C., the 50th anniversary of which we celebrate August 28, 2013 — a slight, yet eloquent diversion from the original timeframe. And the treatment is emotive, with Gabriel’s signature tribal drumming backdrop adding poignancy to the track.
The arrangement has a pop-ish sensibility to it but not overly so. Timing changes and odd liberties taken with the melody allow sophisticated use of “The Session Voices” ethereal sound. What we get is not a folk song; but it’s not a hyped up, hip-hop hopeful either. It’s a real musical exploration that never strays. The harmonies are tight and lush, as one would expect from a vocally concentrated group, but it’s the light instrumental touches that put this piece a cut above the rest. Sitar sounds weave in subtly with guitar incidentals that play exquisitely the “less is more” mantra. There is nothing overwrought; in fact, it’s a performance that oozes sensuality in a way one might not ever have expected to hear from the song.
The video itself is also beautifully toned, and I mean that in terms of both color and mood. Scenes fade in and out gently with just the right amount of effects to make it interesting without taking over the storyline. It is all substantial — tackled with grace and a caring eye toward the subject matter. “The Sessions Voices” have crafted a gracefully artistic narrative to a story of struggle, which shows that it can be done, that social justice conversations do not have to be hammered home, to be heard.
Mark Dignam grew up in the North Side Dublin suburb of Finglas. He left Finglas for Dublin at 18, busking on the city streets along with friends, and released the acclaimed Poetry and Songs From the Wheel in 1995. The album, named a top Ten Best Debut of 1995 by Ireland's Hot Press Magazine, cementing Mark's reputation as a powerful voice on the singer-songwriter circuit. He's continued to release records, from 1997's In a Time of Overstatement, a stark collection of spiritual and political musings, to 2005's Box Heart Man, recorded in Pittsburgh, where it was chosen as one of WYEP’s top picks for 2005. Mark has played with The Swell Season, David Gray, Billy Bragg, Joan Armatrading, Richard Thompson, Mike Nichols (of The Alarm) and many others. Today, he tours with his band, The House of Song, living in Pittsburgh with his two beautiful children and serve's as Music Editor for HEArt Online.