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Music Review: Liz Mitchell – Pretty House

So what does a trauma physician do in her spare time? She returns to her first career as a singer-songwriter and releases a debut album.

Several decades ago, Liz Mitchell began her music career as a folk singer in the Joan Baez tradition. She took advantage of open mikes and played small clubs in the greater Boston area. Voice problems and life in general caused her to put that career on hold and complete her medical training. Now, 16 years into her medical career, she has returned to her music and released her first album, Pretty House.

She has one of those voices that is a gift from god. It is a clear high soprano with a wonderful tone that can just soar and inspire. It is a voice you may be able to train and hone, but other than that it is a gift.

She is still a singer-songwriter in the folk tradition, although her music has taken on a pop sheen. The focus is usually on the lyrics, as the music is stripped down and very subtle at times. She is a pianist and that instrument sets the tone for
her sound. Also on board are upright bassist Paul Kochanski, violinist Joyce
Andersen, cello player Kristen Miller, clarinetist Billy Novick, oboe player
Arkane Setiawan, mandolin/guitarist John Curtis, and producer/accordion player Tom Eaton. Her piano sound is sparse. The strings serve the purpose of filling in the gaps and are a good accompaniment for her voice.

She wrote 10 of the 11 songs, but the one she did not write is a wonderful cover of a famous song. Her version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is riveting. The a capella beginning, the gentle piano, and the strings flitting in and out form a perfect background for her to interpret the lyrics. She slows the tempo a bit and understates the vocal. The fact that she is a female vocalist also puts a unique spin on this oft-recorded classic.

Her original songs have a personal quality to them. “Karine” is the poignant story of the death of a patient. The bright lyrics cannot cover up the ultimate tragedy of sudden loss. The reason is never explained, which makes the story all the sadder.

Many of her compositions are thoughtful love songs that have elements of loss that just about everyone has experienced at some time in their lives. “After All” takes a different path as it explores passion that survives the passage of time.

Pretty House is not upbeat but it is thoughtful and interesting, resonating in the places of the heart. It is a good listen with a warm fire and your favorite beverage.

About David Bowling