Quite some time ago, a young woman went to a concert by a young up-and-coming songwriter and singer named Don McLean. She was so moved that she went home and wrote a poem about it. In time, the poem fell into the right hands, and became a hit song, Killing Me Softly. The young woman was Lori Lieberman.
So Lieberman is not a new artist by any means. She started recording in the early seventies, and has been on two major labels in her career. But she never came anywhere near the success that her poem enjoyed. In fact, I must admit that I had to have pointed out to me who she was when I got the chance to get this album. I must also admit that Roberta Flack’s hit is far removed from anything I would post here. But, I gave Lieberman a chance, and I’m glad I did.
The songs are a mix of originals and covers. Killing Me Softly is here, and I would group it with the covers, since Lieberman did not write the music. But Lieberman claims the covers as her own, both with her voice, and with her imaginative arrangements. The sound is intense but delicate. The acoustic guitar or piano, or sometimes both, are featured. The strings, when used, feature the cello playing of Stefanie Fite, who also helps with many of the string arrangements. The rest of the strings are just two violins, which provide a gentle cushion of sound for the cello parts to rest on. It’s a very unusual way to use strings, and it really works here. Drums, bass, and the occasional flute, clarinet, or trumpet are mixed in the background, and used for color and accent. Lieberman’s singing ranges from almost a whisper to a conversational volume; she never finds the need to raise her voice. The overall sound is subtle and beautiful.
The lyrics are of a piece. These songs consider love from many different angles. The Opposite of Love is one of those songs where the singer claims to no longer care about an old lover, but why would she make that claim unless she wanted to convince herself? It’s been done many times before, but this feels a little different. I get the feeling this relationship ended quite some time ago, and the wound is no longer raw. But there is still the pull of the old feelings.
He Needs You is a brave song. It portrays a woman who has run away from an abuser, but can still remember why she fell in love with him, and is wrestling with the urge to go back. It is a rare songwriter who has the compassion to write about this at all, and the song is even more remarkable because Lieberman manages to avoid being judgmental at all. Having known someone who was in this position, I can tell you that I could not do as well.
Bus Stop is one of the covers, and it is the song you’re thinking of. The original has always struck me as a corny romantic teen sort of song. But Lieberman reinvents it here. Suddenly, the innocent romance and the blush of first love are real. Lieberman makes it clear that she can believe in this, and therefore, so does the listener. Lieberman follows this with an original, More Than This. Here she depicts a couple whose relationship is deeper than what outsiders can see. They are no longer blind to each other’s faults, but they are still together anyway, because their love is real. This makes a kind of answer to Bus Stop, so putting the two songs together is perfect.
So love both lost and found are on display here. There is even a song of a mother’s love for her daughter, and how hard it is to let go. And then the album closes with Takes Courage. Lieberman reminds us that to love is to dare. She has shown us that sometimes we may get hurt. But we must brave, and do it again. Because when you really find love, it’s worth it. And so is this album.
Lori Lieberman: The Opposite of Love
Lori Lieberman: Bus Stop