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Issue: March 2007

The Beauty of the Voice

Ben Thornewill

The Beauty of Absolutes (Independent)
Aaron Crane

It's Personal (Independent)

The singing voice: Sometimes it can get overlooked in the whole glorious mess of a song. Or it can be overemphasized to the point where all you hear is somebody's "great set of pipes," but you ignore that the band behind them has the "suck" knob on the sound board turned up to 10. And stuck there.

A particular vocal style can also alter a song's context, even subtly. Think of Todd Rundgren's "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" and the cover version performed by Alison Krauss. In one version, a heart is breaking. In the other, it has been broken, kicked under the bed, forgotten and trying to make friends with the dust bunnies. Two recent releases from Louisville musicians prove that the singing voice is the main instrument, that it can provide context for a song, or take the most mundane lyrics and make them sound like epistles from the angels: Ben Thornewill's debut titled The Beauty of Absolutes and It's Personal, from Aaron Crane.

With only a piano (which Thornewill plays flawlessly) and a voice that cavorts dramatically from register to register, Ben Thornewill's Beauty is more of an expressionistic cabaret set than collection of mere piano songs that go from lush and whispery ("Those Eyes" and "My Heart's the Same") to playful ("Victoria" and "Costume") to theatrical (the title track, where his is joined by violinist Molly Rogers).

With Beauty, Thornewill has perhaps regenerated the tradition of the solitary piano troubadour. His performance style would have worked well in a side street cabaret in Prague after the Great War. Franz Kafka would have been a fan. Noel Coward would have made a special trip from London, hanging around the stage door waiting for an autograph.

While Thornewill's performance transfixes with its simplicity and style, It's Personal, a solo project from Strumbeat's Aaron Crane, combines vocals as crisp as the creases on a pair of tailored slacks, with a band loaded with traditional acoustic instrumentation. The result is a set of clean pop (with a pinch of country) that, if nudged a little into the dark, could easily become a set of metal ballads.

Crane's songs are positive in theme and tone, powerful in their emotional impact. Whether he's singing of a love that's simple to understand and appreciate in "Easy" or one going in a questionable and uncertain direction in "Can't Make You," or when he's singing of a young woman working hard to build her life in "Nicole," Crane's voice conveys the content. When he sings as simple a line as "You cause a war inside my head / You give my heart peace," you feel the conflict.

Soprano Monserrat Caballe said, "When a singer truly feels and experiences what the music is all about, the words will automatically ring true." For both Carter and Thornewill their respective voices not only perfectly match the music they sing, but their voices also transmit the truths of what they are singing about: life in all its bizarre, dramatic beauty.

Find more voice at www.benthornewill.com and www.myspace.com/aaroncranesings.

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