Norine Braun,
(Braun & Brains, 2000)

Norine Braun's third album, Crow, is an intriguing selection of thirteen songs, most with a metaphysical as well as a romantic bent. The diversity makes it hard to categorize, containing sounds as diverse as alternative rock, folk, blues, synthesizer-based new age and world music with a Mediterranean focus.

"Salem" blends new-age synthesizers with rock, exploring romance with a metaphysical perspective: "Two kindred souls that touch through astral planes...." "Slipping Into Violet" continues this theme, but with a quieter sound reminiscent of Greek music. "Mantra" has a light pop sound that accents its peaceful lyrics.

The metaphysical is itself a focus of several of the songs. "Animus (Down and In)" has a folk-rock sound with Greek or Middle Eastern influences in the melody and a repeated guitar riff. "Spanish Banks," with a Celtic sound, evokes the beauty and meaning of the location with poetic language. "Crow" has a Middle-Eastern feel, recounting a vision of a mystical Crow and her impact upon the dreamer.

There are love songs, of course. "Give Me Love" is a beautiful song with a clean piano accompaniment in which the singer wants to resolve things with her beloved. "Chasing Light" captures the ambivalence of attraction, both the desire and the reluctance. A quiet Spanish guitar alternates with modern spoken word. "Another Man's Fate" remembers an old love: "Why did we pretend/ That our love had no meaning / Our words were only lies / Why Jeanette why." This one has a modern folk singer-songwriter sound to both the music and the guitar.

"Who Are You" is an rock anthem, asking "Who are you to judge me ... / we all breathe the same ... / we all need the same / inside." "Dreams" has a singer-songwriter sound as it describes a death in a blizzard, and the promise that they'll meet again in dreams."Wings-Phoenix" has a lively Greek sound and is another anthem of independence. "Hanna to Hollywood" is intensely bluesy, both in sound and in theme.

Musician James Bowers supplied all the instrumental accompaniment on this album, and his breadth and skill are impressive. His playing is elegant and non-intrusive, setting the mood and setting off Braun's voice and lyrics effectively, and adding much to the musical interest of "Crow."

The package contains some striking photos of crows, in keeping with its title. The liner includes the complete lyrics to the songs. Little else is included besides acknowledgements and credits, and a link to her website, but it's sufficient, and an attractive presentation.

Crow is more a collection of individual songs than an album organized as a whole experience. There's seldom a sense of flow from one track to another, although the segues are not jarring either. When the individual songs are as good as these, though, this is a minor complaint. Both the vocals and the instrumentation have a spontaneity that is very pleasing, like the best sort of live performances.

Those who like minimal and eclectic music, with a wide range and some metaphysical focus, will enjoy this album very much.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]