Rebecca Hall,
Rebecca Hall Sings
(Listen Here, 2000)

The most amazing thing about Rebecca Hall Sings isn't her singing, sweet as it is. The surprise is that Rebecca Hall wrote it. Oh, she had help with one selection and a couple of tracks are traditional, but without the production notes, you won't know which ones. Hall has created songs that sound timeworn and classic straight off the page.

Hall's voice is lovely and clear, if sometimes a little soft around the edges. She presents her songs with a distant calm that complements the drama of the lyrics. It carries the resigned grief of a betrayed lover facing death in "Winter Is Gone" and the bounce of a gospel song for "On the Other Side" without manipulating the simple structure of the songs.

There is much more grieving on Rebecca Hall Sings than joy; only two of the 10 tracks aren't focused on death, betrayal and eternal farewells. The hopeful, open "On the Other Side" isn't the gospel jolt of a tent revival, but it does have an easy cadence that makes the afterlife so eminent in other songs seem like welcoming, friendly destination. "See You Soon" is focused on an immediate farewell, as a singer begs her companion not to seek her out again, but lightens the sad parting with a fragile belief in a future meeting.

The other songs lean towards tragedy, but tragedies of such scope and variety that it avoids repetition. "Hard Way to Learn" is a fast-paced tale of a woman deserted by her lover. The dirge-like "Man of Poor Fortune" draws out a slow story of startling sin and strange vengeance. I had to listen to it several times to believe I was hearing it correctly. "Like You Do" takes a lighter tone for its comparatively light subject, as a lover admits her falseness and leaves for something better. The extreme tragedy of "Man of Poor Fortune" is back for "Long Black Shore," but "Shore" takes a haunting, distant approach to its grief, opening with a lost soul call by Rebecca and strengthened by Chris Gearoge's powerful cello.

What makes songs traditional, carried through folk tradition, is how well they resonate with the listener. Each song on this album hits that resonance perfectly. These are songs that beg to be learned by heart, hummed during the chores and passed on through families. In sorrow or exaltation, Hall's clear voice carries an almost spiritual clarity that still leaves room for the songs to be shaped by other voices. Classic and unique, Rebecca Hall Sings promises to become a tradition in its own right.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 1 March 2003

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