Considering that a quick check on the Internet will tell you that Nehedar is the Hebrew word for wonderful, glorious, magnificent, and splendid, it takes some chutzpah for an artist to appropriate it first for herself and then for her band. With a name like that you leave yourself ripe for a lot of sarcastic criticism unless you come up with the kind of original work that justifies the choice. In other words you had better produce.
Singer/songwriter Emilia Cataldo’s new CD High Tide, her fifth self-released album, goes a long way to validating the name. If “nedehar” might be over the top hyperbole, the album’s 14 tracks provide a varied menu of musical moments—pop, folk, a bit of salsa, a bit of jazz—sure to please discerning palates, and even a gem or two to keep chewing on after the coffee and dessert.
Cataldo has the kind of voice that can handle a pop hook with finesse, but she usually seems to find a way to write a lyric or throw in a discordant thread that raises her song above the usual pop pap. Take a song like “Tinkerbell.” It has an infectious melody. Its title evokes a kind of childhood magic, but the lyric suggests something much darker, something that subverts the pop sweetness of the melody. Its subtlety contrasts with the sweet voiced in your face lyrics of the album’s opener, “The Interrogation.” Here the dark side is nothing if not direct.
Variety is the key to the new album. “Baby I’m Falling” has a retro rock and roll vibe with some clever word play on the seasonal nature of relationships. “Distracted,” on the other hand, opens like an anthem, and Cataldo’s vocal becomes something ethereal. “Intro,” which comes paradoxically in the middle of the album, introduces a darker musical note; the sweetness is gone. This is followed by “Dig Deep (Parts 1& 2) which begins with a very spare arrangement that transforms into the singer’s take on the narrative folk ballad. “Take It Apart” seems to be Cataldo’s nod to Latin roots. It includes some stellar brass accents by Mike Shobe.
“The Song No One Hears” is a bouncing meditation on what must be every songwriter’s nightmare: if you play a song in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it really exist. It questions the absurd relation between art and commerce, and the copycat nature of popular music. Check out the video on the Nedehar website. Perhaps the most interesting variation on the album is the final track, “Count Down The Days.” It’s the kind of song Kurt Weill might have written for The Three Penny Opera. A haunting melody sung in a grittier voice, if nothing else on the album convinces you of the Cataldo’s versatility both as a singer and a songwriter, this will do the job. It is a “nehedar” performance.
The instrumentation on all the songs on the album is by Cataldo and Little Pioneer (Craig Levy), except for Beau Petrea on three tracks.