Lyricist/singer Lorraine Feather is back with Attachments, her eighth solo album since 2000, and it is a winner. As on her previous albums, the singer sticks to interpreting her own lyrics. And why not? If you have access to a stable of thoroughbreds to compose the music and you can write the kind of literate verse that often rises to the level of poetry, you’d be a fool not to. And Feather is no fool.
There are a dozen fine tunes on Attachments. Her collaborators in composition, pianists Russell Ferrante, Shelley Berg and Dave Grusin, and guitarist Eddie Arkin, each join her on the individual performances of their songs. While she is working with Grusin for the first time, the others are old hands. The one outlier on the album is a gorgeous melody she calls “We Have the Stars,” adapted from a composition by pianist Joey Calderazzo called “La Valse Kendall” that was written for a Branford Marsalis album. It is a dreamy introspective waltz, sung with tender passion, an intense ode on the joys and perils of love, ending with the advice not to ask for the moon when you “already have the stars.”
Feather has a knack for the smart lyric. She uses the playful, clever stuff for the uptempo numbers. On Grusin’s “I Thought You Did,” she comes up with “I think of you/And get all Rhapsody in Blue” (a subtle reference to the George Gershwin song “Rhapsody in Blue”) and “I saw the signs/Read between the telephone lines.” On “I Love You Guys,” she focuses on feelings of insecurity about lapses in her “musicality/Scattin’ the blues/Over a non-blues tonality.” If not necessarily a personal confession, it is clearly the confession of the persona she has created in the context of the song.
On the other hand, there is a sincerity, and emotional honesty that characterizes her ballads. This is not to say that they are personally true; it is rather that they seem personally true. True art rests in making the audience feel you are sincere, whether you really are is in some sense irrelevant. Take a song like “Anna Lee,” a kind of tender elegiac nod to the memory of an old friend lost. In the liner notes to the song, Feather indicates that other than changing the name, her lyric is about an actual old friend of hers. The assurance is gratuitous. “Anna Lee” is a fine subtle exploration of an emotional truth; its quality doesn’t depend on its biographical truth.
A song like “Hearing Things” seems an almost otherworldly reflection on love. Love songs and love poems don’t have to describe actual love affairs. Other standouts include the title song, the cutely effervescent nod to dogs, “Smitten With You,” and the very cool “159.”
The one piece on the album I have reservations about is the final track “True,” Grusin’s adaptation of one of the most famous pieces of classical music, Bach’s “Air on the G String.” I know there is a long tradition of modernizing and adding lyrics to classical pieces. I know that the practice has produced its share of popular hits. But when it comes right down to it, Bach’s “Air” is just about perfect as he wrote it, so if you have the stars, don’t ask for the moon.