Listening to Solo, a listener might think they’re hearing the love child of Paul Simon and Laura Nyro. Recorded live in the studio, Vonda Shepard says of Solo, “I played and sang together to capture the emotion of the moment.” Emotional it is, as well as poetic, ethereal, and intimate.
Over the years, Shepard has built an impressive resume. She’s sold over 12 million records, earned two Golden Globes, two Emmys, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Billboard prize for selling the most television soundtrack records in history for her various Ally McBeal compilations. Her past has much to do with Solo. The songs are mostly drawn from her recordings from 1989 and beyond, now re-interpreted with only a voice and keyboard to tell the stories.
Like a chapbook of good poetry, the album is unified thematically. The songs are about love lost, love uncertain, and journeys that are metaphors for personal reflection. These travels include 1999’s “Lucky Life Interlude/Maryland” about coming home despite not becoming what your parents desired. She doesn’t want to give up because “there’s nothing to give up.” “You Belong To Me” is a bit of a lullaby with exotic imagery including pyramids, crocodiles, and Tangiers. She’s telling a lover that no matter where you might roam, “you belong to me.” On the other hand, “Soothe Me” is about a woman who needs to wander and spend more time in her solitude. After all, you can’t soothe her unless she’s your first choice, your first prize. In “Lose My Way,” that’s exactly what the singer wants to do “in this world I’ve created.”
Other stories are just as internal. For example, in “I Know Better” Shepard sings that she isn’t going to lean on distant memories. It’s time for today. Then she’s inspired to take notes at the “Sunset Marquis,” where she hears some music which awakens all her senses. The beautiful “Finally Home Interlude/Another January” is about love lost, “when the world seems to turn and run away.” It’s not the singer on the move, but rather all that surrounds her.
Shepard then turns from running to walking in her cover of the Left Banke’s 1966 “Walk Away Renee,” before wrapping up the set with two songs from her 1989 debut album. In its original version, “Don’t Cry Ilene” was a jazzy Adult Contemporary hit about the breakup of an interracial relationship. This time around, the lyrics tell the same story but with a more pensive, reflective delivery. Also from 1989, “Baby Don’t You Break My Heart Slow” retains its affirming challenge, this time taking the singer out of her atmospheric reveries and into a place where she’s making a firm statement. It’s as if the musings are over and it’s time to blow out the candles.
Solo will be of most interest to Shepard fans, but listeners not hooked on her previous releases may enjoy a recital of her distinctive lyrics and gentle music. The piano work alone is worth the price of admission. Perhaps you’ll share Shepard’s emotional moments and wonder about your own journeys and loves lost or unsure.