Cry Cry Cry,
Cry Cry Cry
(Razor & Tie, 1998)

For awhile there was quite a confusion whether Cry Cry Cry was just the title of this album or whether Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell were using it as the name of their temporary band. Maybe they didn't know themselves to start with; it certainly seems to have become identified with the trio after the continued success of the project.

To many, Cry Cry Cry may sound like a fairly awkward name choice; when asked about its origin, Shindell started an elaborate explanation having to do with an obscure Flemish painting -- and it all sounded pretty farfetched, especially considering that the three played Johnny Cash's song "Cry Cry Cry" in concert the next evening.

One of the motives for recording this CD was the mutual love for the many terrific, but underappreciated singer/songwriters out there. That's why, despite the talents of Williams, Kaplansky and Shindell as songwriters in their own right, only one track on the album is penned by one of the three. Instead of showing off their own writing abilities, they spotlighted less-known artists and their songs with the hope of attracting attention to them.

The choice of songs is impeccable. Absolutely unknown writers like Jim Armenti meet others with a certain reputation amongst the true followers of the folk-rock scene, like Cliff Eberhardt. The real surprise on this album is a pared-down version of R.E.M.'s "Fall On Me" which proves that the famous alternative pop band has folk roots and that Michael Stipe is a heck of a songwriter.

James Keelaghan's "Cold Missouri Waters," the gripping tale of the first firefighter to save his own life by scorching a circle around himself in the midst of a forest fire, gets a wonderful treatment by Shindell, whose vocals are so full of passion that the whole story become vivid before one's eyes. Kaplansky takes the lead for Ron Sexmith's "Speaking With the Angel," which he wrote after his son was born. A touching ballad and the vulnerability of a new life is underlined by the soulfoul steel guitar by Larry Campbell. "I Know What Kind of Love Is This" gets a much softer, less angry approach than the original by the Nields, which is comparatively raw. Williams and Kaplansky share the vocals on this song written from the perspective of a teenager and her feelings about the loss of innocence.

Some of the songs get the full treatment with electric bass and drums, but most of the tracks lean towards the acoustic side of folk-rock, while a few, like Robert Earle Keen's "Shades of Gray," can be filed under country. What this CD ultimately is all about is revealed in the a cappella "Northern Cross" by Leslie Smith: harmonies, nothing but harmonies. After all, the members of Cry Cry Cry are self-declared "harmony junkies." The three voices achieve a magical effect. Such heavenly harmonies haven't been heard since the very best days of the Eagles.<

It's too bad that it seems as if this CD will remain the trio's only output, as they all want to pursue their solo careers. But they reached their goal: not only did they record a superb album without the slightest fault, they also attracted some well-deserved attention to these first-rate songs and their creators. Don't only check out this CD, check out the the music of the original talents for I'm sure there are many more treasures to be found.

[ by Michael Gasser ]

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