Perhaps like many of you, I was unfamiliar with the music of Lorenza Ponce until her latest CD, Soul Shifter, came through the mail. After listening a few times, it was clear that this was not just another pop rocker, this was a singer/songwriter with talent; this was an instrumentalist worth some attention. This was someone worth learning more about. A few clicks on Google, and it quickly becomes obvious that Lorenza Ponce is no novice. An accomplished violinist, she has played with some of the biggest names on the music scene: names like Sheryl Crow, Jon Bon Jovi, John Tesh, and The Dixie Chicks; not to mention Neil Young, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton and The Zombies. An eclectic group if there ever was one.
What is new in this her latest album, is her emergence as a roots rock soloist. Prior to this the albums she had released were new age compilations. Her first solo album was Imago for which she wrote all the music and lyrics. This was followed by three more new age albums. Soul Shifter, she has said, is “a style change from the classical training and new age music of my past, while incorporating the ‘graduate degree’ I have earned at the school of rock star employers and mentors.” Indeed, she credits Sheryl Crow with her makeover: “Sheryl was Patsy Cline to my Loretta Lynn. She encouraged me to pick up the guitar again. . . and bought me my first really good pair of leather pants.”
Of the album’s ten tracks eight are by Ponce, four in collaboration with others and four on her own. The rocking “Baby Please Don’t Go” is by Joseph Lee Williams. It shows the singer off at her sultry best. George Harrison’s “Let It Down” begins with a soft cabaret vibe and rocks out on the chorus. Her own “Frostbite” has a nice folksy feel that builds on an extensive conceit comparing the effects of unrequited love to frostbite. “Testify” is a demand that we stand up and acknowledge that we are living for love. It features some nice guitar and banjo accompaniment. “I Won’t Lose Faith” has an otherworldly quality that has some echoes of her new age past, but adds a touch of blues with the first chorus. The problem of maintaining faith in a world where bad things happen to good people is central to the song’s affirmation: “No I won’t, I won’t lose faith in you/No matter what you do.”
The album opens with “Casual Girl,” the lament of a love taken for granted, but unable to break away. The chorus exploits some clever internal rhyming that emphasizes the speaker’s awareness of her situation and her inability to do anything about it: “keep me handy like pocket candy” and “dedicated to a love I’ve hated.” She’s “not that lucky.” She’ll “keep on sinking deeper.” “Remedy” is a down home blues sitting on an intense throbbing beat. “What Happened to You,” another blues, is a diatribe against the artist that has lost his way; once upon a time you could make us feel, she cries. “What happened to you?” “Daddy’s Baby” is a patriotic anthem with a country feel. It is an assertion that love of country doesn’t mean love of guns and war: she shouldn’t be “misunderstood/Like it’s some kinda crazy gun totin’ sisterhood.”
“Soul Shifter,” the song that gives the album its title is a swinging tribute to old blue eyes, Frank Sinatra. “A soul shifter,” Ponce has said, “is someone who will turn your blue mood into joy and laughter, without you even thinking about it.” It is a soft rock tune with some of the most elaborate orchestration on the album, but it doesn’t quite have the raw energy of some of the other songs on the album. Unfortunately for me, whenever she got to the chorus: “He’s a soul shifter/He’s the mood lifter,” all I could keep hearing was Pat Benatar, but that’s my problem.
Lorenza Ponce’s first foray into rock is riddled with successes and filled with promise for the future. Her selection of material is varied. She has a seductive voice that is equally at home with the blues and the softer rock ballad. Her own songs are intelligent and thought provoking. She manages to put her own stamp on the songs of others. All in all, you may not be enthralled by every track on the album, but it will be the rare listener who will not find much to like on Soul Shifter.