Regular visitors here know something about my musical taste by now. I enjoy songs that do a good job of telling a story. I want images to stick in my head. And I like music that takes me out of my zone, and gets in my head, precisely because it isn’t what I normally go for. Enter Luthea Salom.
The first song I heard was Dragonfly. I wasn’t paying close attention to the lyrics. What drew me in was the texture of the piece. Over an electronic pulse, but not a robotic beat, is a keyboard that sounds almost, but not quite, like an accordion; the rest of the band doesn‘t arrive until the first chorus. And there is Salom’s voice. She sings in a high soprano, in a very clear voice, and her voice has an unusual quality that I would call a wink. She sounds like a good person to seek out for reassurance, and it turns out that many of the songs here find her reassuring herself.
Salom plays acoustic, Spanish, twelve-string, and electric guitars, and some keyboards; by herself, she might have limited the instrumentation to those options, and I would have thoroughly enjoyed that. The song This New Skin is what that might have sounded like. But Salom was able to pull off a major coup: she got Malcolm Burn to produce the album with her. Burn worked along side Daniel Lanois before going out on his own. He likes to add texture and layers to arrangements, and he often adds in unusual instruments for color. All of that is on display here, and the songs are mostly well served by it. Sunshine Gold has a repeating riff played on a viola and echoed by single notes on electric guitar. The rhythmic feel of Like a River is Brazilian, achieved with electronic percussion, stand up bass, organ, and guitars. Winter Tires opens with a rhythm played on acoustic guitar, which almost stands in for percussion; this role remains once the rest of the instruments join in with the harmonies and counter-melodies.
Salom sings the words clearly, but the meaning is subtle. These are not stories, and the imagery is sparse at best. These songs are snapshots of emotional states. There are scant clues to what may have happened; the focus is on, “This is where I am, and this is how I find hope.” Hope is the theme of this album. In Sunshine Gold, Salom depicts a relationship that has evidently hit a rough spot. But she is sees sunshine there, because she does not believe that love is gone. Beautiful follows a similar path, expressing a series of doubts before concluding that there is goodness and beauty in the world. Winter Tires has the most detailed imagery on the album, but the images are metaphorical. Here a man bent on the conquest of a woman falls for her instead; the opening lines of the song are repeated at the end, but the meaning has completely changed.
So, I thoroughly enjoyed twelve of the fourteen songs here. Unfortunately, the two songs I did not care for are the first two on the album. Die to Live is the opener; this a pop-folk tune which I found to be too produced, curiously, the song is reprised to close the album in a much sparser mix, which I much prefer. There are other pop-folk tunes on the album which worked for me, but this one did not. The second song on the album is a cover of Rebel Rebel; this is just a poor choice for Salom. Her gifts as a singer are not well suited to this material. So my advice is to start listening to this album at track three, which happens to be Dragonfly. Go through to the end and enjoy the ride; it’s well worth taking. Then go back for the first two tracks, and see what you think. But make sure you give the rest a fair chance first. Luthea Salom deserves it.
Luthea Salom: Sunshine Gold
Luthea Salom: Winter Tires