This collection Held In The Arms from Lucia Comnes is her fourth release and right from the start her refreshing vocals and band performance is delicate on the ears and easily a chase your blues away tonic.
As you listen to these fiddle-driven songs you have to think this is excellent Americana from the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. You can almost smell the whiskey in the glasses, the molasses running, the pine smoke and the fresh clean air of the warm summer afternoons of the mountains and valleys. But Lucia, originally from San Francisco, resides in Italy.
Musically, Lucia has worn many hats. From the upbeat stimulating Americana here to collaborating with the likes of Belfast-born singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Paul Brady who has performed with many well-known artists throughout the world, fronting her own Irish band, studying spoken Gaelic, Lucia is quite a worldly musician.
Track two is one of the most energetic — “On the Farm,” it’s upbeat, melodic, and the instrumentation is stirring. It’s also one of Lucia’s finest vocals. By track three, Lucia slips into a beautiful Beth Nielsen-Chapman stream on “Grace.” Finely polished glass this tune leans into a more religious area and fortunately, it’s not in your face stuff. Throughout, the musicians provide stellar guitar, fiddle, mandolin, accordion, and drums. The evenly balanced production is unifying and satisfying and at times, like on “Lady Tamarind,” the performance borders on Americana via Euro melodicism. Can you imagine that? Very good little upright piano showcase in this song as well.
Track five – “Matilde,” teeters on a Leonard Cohen “Suzanne,” feel – but fortunately again, Lucia has enough musical ingenuity to maintain and apply her own originality. The vocals are wonderful as she narrates the colorful poetic story. The song is also reminiscent of 60’s singer-songwriter Donovan in his more descriptive fantasy-abstract barefoot on the grass, vines, wood smoke, house of stone, jars of honey and herbs style. A little piece of artwork set to music is all this is. And it’s effective.
Singing more like a girl in the Appalachian woods Lucia renders “Good Hands,” in a wall of fiddles and acoustics. Hard to believe some of these tracks were recorded in Italy. But if you think about it, there are parts of Italy that are “American country” in tradition even in a folksy Americana manner. Goes to prove that where you are doesn’t always have to matter. It’s a state of mind. I have reviewed music by musicians from Sweden and New Zealand who are equally tightly weaved into genuine Americana. Well, I guess if California can bottle award winning wine like the finest in Tuscany – they can ferment some of our traditions as well.
Another pleasant piece is the simple and poignant “Side by Side,” with its mournful fiddle. Lucia continues to richly insert some wonderful vocalese into each tune. Her voice is so potent in the mountains of West Virginia and Georgia – so breezy and beautiful like that refreshing feeling you get at the end of a hard day’s work and you splash that first handful of cold icy water onto your face and head.
An immediately catchy melody seeps from track 8 – this is the stuff of classic folk music. “Mirabelle,” is stunning lyrically and musically. Lucia’s vocals driven hard by the exceptional percussion are evocative and brawny and rhythmic. This is what I seek out when I listen to so much music — that one song that just takes me by the throat and shakes me. This is it. This is the sweet milk shake; this is the moonshine one seeks. I wish the song went on for another two minutes because the melody suggests many places where a band could just ignite. It sounds like a fun song to play. And on the PR sheet, I received it was a song that wasn’t even highlighted as special. They will need to revise that.
Lucia is a great storyteller. Her lyrics are filled with small short tales that are compelling.
“The Hunter,” is one such example and it’s more in the tradition of Mary Chapin-Carpenter or Emmylou Harris. I like the fact that Lucia manages to sew into her Americana an encouraging Euro feel into the arrangements. It renders her performance with more originality that is to be expected. It’s refreshing and the styles do mix — about as good as dark chocolate and potato chips. Consciously or not I hear its small seasoning. I also admire her ability to use words in her lyrics that are not typical of this musical genre. When she sings of food you can almost taste it. The musicians at times sound like they are just seated around her in a kitchen as she prepares the meal and sings. That’s warmth in a composition.
Two average songs that are simply good are “Song for Mama,” and “Morning Star,” but they are not from the same recipe as “Mirabelle.” Nonetheless, they are two listenable and well-crafted songs. These have reminisces of Fairport Convention, Pentangle and folk-rock bands of that style. The guitar playing is steady and sure and Lucia’s fiddle is dynamic. The confidence in Lucia’s vocals is ever present and potent. She does indeed change her vocal gears from song to song and this is what keeps listening to Lucia interesting. There is never a moment during her performance that her voice isn’t enchanting.
Closing out the album on an excellent performance Ms. Comnes sings “The Sleeping Lady’s Daughter,” – quite in the tradition of the old Incredible String Band of the early 70’s. In another vocal timbre, Lucia sings slow, smoky and striking. This could easily attract the likes of a Joan Baez (who Lucia played fiddle for already), Emmylou Harris or even Dolly Parton. Though I have to admit, Lucia’s version here is virtually untouchable and it’s a wonderful reading of a powerful folk song from the old tradition.
If the late, great singer-songwriter Judee Sill (“Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” “The Kiss”) decided to explore folk-country this, in my opinion, is what she would have sounded like. Fortunately, we have Lucia Comnes – there is not an inferior tune on this entire 43-minute album. I look forward to more from Ms. Comnes – I hope she is able to duet someday with Italian-rock-folk singer Eugenio Finardi – the Temple University educated English speaking musician who recently had an equally folksy-country song called “Passera,” — on YouTube and hilarious.
The thirteen song album was produced by Lucia Comnes and Gawain Mathews. It was recorded in parts of the USA and Italy.
Musicians: Lucia Comnes (Vocals & Fiddle); Gawain Mathews (acoustic and electric guitars, Dobro, bass, piano, mandolin, mandola, banjo, Hammond B3 organ, accordion, percussion and harmony vocals); Richard Mitchell (guitar on “Grace”); Rob Hooper (drums on “Winter in the Mountains,” & “On the Farm”); Kyle Caprista (drums on “Matilde,” & “Morning Star”).
Cover artwork by Sarah Neuberger, design by Giovanni Caiati and CD photography was by Alessandro Illuzzi.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / August 2018