Reviews of “Mercy Dancing”
Alison Kitchen’s new CD is one of the best-sounding collections of new music I’ve heard in many years. From the opening track, “It Only Takes a Minute”, through the final seconds of “Beloved Planet”, “Mercy Dancing” exemplifies top-notch singing, playing, songwriting and production values. Kitchen’s Christian orientation informs most of her writing, which is concise and lyrical, rather than wordy, as can be a problem with many songwriters who deliver an evangelical “message”. Her most apparent musical influence may be Joni Mitchell, mostly through her use of unusual chord progressions, although her presentation is more mainstream than most of Mitchell’s work. The arrangements owe much to the singer-songwriter and folk rock movement of the late 1960s and seventies, several tracks recall mid-period Traffic. Kitchen’s voice projects well and is strongest in its lower register. She quavers more on higher notes, although the overall effect is pleasing. Kitchen doesn’t get in the listener’s face with her spirituality, even if it is the dominant theme in her work. This CD deserves a listen from anyone who enjoys singer-songwriters with roots in the folk-rock vein and will attract repeated listening from those in sympathy with Alison Kitchen’s mature spiritual leanings.
An album from a woman singer/songwriter new to me but recommended by her producer, guitarist John Morgan, as ‘worth a listen’ – and he was right. Superficially Alison Kitchen sounds a bit like Joni Mitchell, though the songs she is performing on Mercy Dancing seem to be more spiritual and based on the idea of faith, and it has to be said musically less overtly funky jazz-influenced than Mitchells’.
There is quite a cast list of supporting musicians spread across the dozen tracks here, and they offer backing scenarios that range from the spare to the lush and orchestral. Whatever the backing, Alison Kitchen’s voice soars over it all, perhaps a little too high flying at times for my tastes but she is always in control and doesn’t subscribe to the Whitney and Mariah school of more notes per second.
I can’t in all honesty say that any of the songs stand out above the rest on the album, except for perhaps Looking For You, which has a wistful,
hopeful feel to it, and the country-fried Drive All Night. If you enjoy singers such as the previously mentioned Joni Mitchell, or Joan Armatrading and Tori Amos then I think you might like to try this album.
After listening many times to this debut CD, I only could think of one question, “Why did she wait so long?” Alison Kitchen was immersed in music from birth to having births and beyond. Rarely does such a songwriting talent wait so long to be heard in such an all-encompassing way. She did things right with amazing production (John Morgan), engineering/mastering (Tom Boyer) and catchy melodies with deep lyrics. There is no doubt that Alison has her focus on the art of songwriting, and most of all our Lord and Savior. There are many songwriters who may be in Alison’s league, holding dusty yellowed pages that will never see the light of day because you need a great CD to have the songs reach their full potential and be a vehicle for getting the music out to the world. Mercy Dancing is that CD!
It Only Takes A Minute starts out with a catchy Santana-like guitar (Mike Keller) and a strong lead vocal singing everyday sounding lyrics, yet the words are simply amazing. The trick is, it gets the listener relating in the very first minute. This track is a smooth piece of music that gives you a feeling of happiness ’til you realize that a car wreck suddenly hits you in the second verse and you start thinking life isn’t fair. Life changes before your eyes and heavy duty meanings abound, such as building a home on sinking sand, but His warnings do need addressed. Behind the lyrics lies the message for the listener which she masterfully implies without saying: “With Christ as our foundation we can’t lose, and that only takes a minute too.” This song is a musical masterpiece and sets the stage for better things ahead!
Mercy Dancing has a chord structure which is not the norm verse-wise, yet the melody fits like a glove and you wouldn’t realize that the score is complicated. By this point you are really enjoying Alison’s great singing voice which is enhanced by the strong backup vocals and keyboard pads. This song is a relationship with our living God and letting the world share this special world with her is quite a treat. Most can’t describe His love, not with this kind of flair. You won’t be able to get the smile off your face ’cause rarely will a listener be enveloped in music and lyrics at the same time. Generally either the words or the music are stronger on most albums, but not this one, they work seamlessly hand in hand!
Are You Willing? is a short song that has a well layered vocal arrangement and is mainly acoustically driven, yet percussion and tasty production instrumentation cement this song which leads into one of the best cuts on the CD, Icarus! The song order in this CD is well thought out and many artists put their best song in the number four slot. Yet this is only the first of five songs that take wings and fly. Alison explained the following: “The story of Icarus is one of the Greek myths. He and his father, Daedalus were exiled to the island, Crete by the evil Minos, who ruled over all. They tried to escape by using the wax from their candles to glue feathers they collected from all the birds that lived on the island. Daedalus told Icarus to stay close and not to fly too close to the sun but his son got excited and caught up to his father while flying, but when he did, it melted the wax on his wings and he plunged to his death.” She went on to explain her thought process as follows: “Our desire to be free, to be unfettered, to fly, is so overwhelming, yet is so continually hampered by our lack of judgment, our rebelliousness. It also speaks to me of the idea of being totally helpless, falling, rather than being self-determining. When I am falling, I am crying out to God to save me instead of telling Him to leave me alone so I can pursue my own plans and agenda.” This concept is brilliant, we can’t do it our own by human means, we need to give our everything over to Him and fight off our impulse to do it alone or we will simply pass into time or Greek mythology in the case of Icarus! This song employs violins that just stir your heart, and the guitar work reminds me of Heart in their early days with Dog and Butterfly. Simply a breathtaking song; you have to play it over and over again and then you still won’t get it completely, but we buy art to absorb it.
For Rachel provides “Christ as the answer and don’t let life get in the way or live in on our own little world” in a nutshell lyrically and this is good motherly advice that anyone can relate to. It’s a wonderfully mixed song; it has perfect sound levels, the piano and guitar and backups are clear and concise, and you don’t hear sound balance this good with most Indies. This review’s words can’t really capture track 6, arguably the best of the best, only a stereo with studio speakers will do this song the justice it deserves. Song in the Night is an epic anthem with a superb chorus that fills the room with a wall of sound along with the stirring violin by the jazz phenomenon, Christian Howes, who is the main violinist throughout this album and adds a strong element to this song. This is probably Alison’s best vocal on the album. Her voice is deep, strong and she paints the words with the energy she penned them with. The words, “Oh Lord, don’t forsake me” will give you Spiritual chills! This is also the best produced song on the album and the guitar work closing out this song is as good as it gets, trust me. Alison sings of reaching out and not being alone as the Lord is with her and fortunately a supporting cast of musicians are too. Wow, what a song!
Courts of the Lord has a chorus you’ll find yourself singing along with, you can’t really help it as there is a choir sounding background vocals group which really gives this song an inner strength. The musical arrangement is again top-notch and even has a flute which isn’t obtrusive and really adds to this Spirit-laden, moving praise song. Looking for You gets an introspective feeling going, picks you up, and takes you on a four minute journey which you’d think was longer; that’s how wrapped into the music you’ll get if you put on headphones, no doubt! You feel the music, and that’s when you know the writer and musicians have done their jobs. I can’t say enough about the overall quality of this CD. Drive All Night is a shocking change of pace, a sawdust covered dance floor country kind of song! The violin really helps the mood on this song and it seems to put life into a simple path of changing scenes that we learn from life’s journeys. Country radio stations look out!!! I’d rather listen to this song than sad drunken trucker songs.
These Stars surely shows we are not alone in this universe. These wondrously woven words echo the mysteries and beauty of night skies over and over into the soul of the listener, and soothes to the very core. Generally by track 10 normal albums start playing filler tunes, but this song is pure substance. You might miss this initially when listening to the complete album, but it’s worth listening to many times on its own merit. Love That Covers Me is a radio hit, even with the jazzy ending. It has a hook record producers would die for! Lyrically, Alison speaks of God’s mercy covering us and it is straightforward enough that radio stations will cover the airwaves with it. Stations may cut it at 3:39 as the outstanding jazz scat of Noelle Shearer certainly was an unexpected twist and gives the music a complex ending instead of an echoing chorus. I’d keep it intact if I were the DJ.
Beloved Planet, a six and a half minute song, finishes the album with the deepest and most hauntingly beautiful song of the CD. The penny whistle follows the song style, which definitely has an Irish feel. You might even envision Lord of the Rings, but it’s the essence of our surroundings that are really brought to the forefront by the mood of Alison’s incredible voice and the musical genius of those wrapped into this project. This song brings you through Spiritual growth into a relationship with Him, who created all for us to enjoy, yet life isn’t all pure bliss, you need to learn in the process. Alison doesn’t over sing; that is the key, she holds out notes which employ moods that the words convey and that is a hard balance to pull off.
Mercy Dancing is an enthralling, convincing mixture of voice, lyrical content and musical composition. For Alison to raise children before finally putting her tunes to vinyl tells us how unselfish her nature is, but then again she is a deep thinker and perhaps she didn’t have it figured out till now! This reviewer has probably heard 200 Indie CDs in the past five years and I would say this is one of the best five I have heard, and that’s saying a lot because Independent music production standards have grown thanks to improved digital technology. Let us hope she keeps this winning musical team together as they threw themselves and everything into this project with the exception of the Kitchen sink (forgive the pun). Alison has a special gift for songwriting and a unique voice and is destined to get published and have many of these songs get some well deserved spins on the radio.
CD Review/Guide Review
Alison Kitchen CD
Guide Rating – 3 out of 5 stars
Pros: An outstanding cast of musicians, Strong messages of faith, Excellent production
Cons: For me, too much Joni Mitchell flavor
The Bottom Line: Even if you have never been a Joni Mitchell fan, you can’t let that stop you from enjoying this CD. The strong lyrical content and the top of the line music is something that everyone can enjoy.
Description: 12 songs, Released 2003, Indie artist
Singer/songwriter Alison Kitchen’s debut CD, Mercy Dancing, has a Joni Mitchell flavor throughout mixed with Celtic overtones. Her own talent as a guitar player, as well as a group of excellent musicians, give a strong musical backing to the well-produced tracks and her vocals, while strong, don’t overpower the music. Acoustic Driven Faith would have been a good alternate title to the project, as her love for our Savior shines brightly through the mellow, relaxing sounding musical score. My favorite songs on the CD are For Rachel and Courts of the Lord, which brings background vocals that sound like a full choir. Song in the Night, another top pick, brings us jazz phenomenon, Christian Howes, who plays violin on several of the tracks.