Hot Soup,
Hot Soup!
(SOUPer Music, 1997)

Hot Soup! is the name three musicians -- Christina Muir, Sue Ribaudo and Sue Trainor -- use when performing together, and it's also the name of their first album (they've subsequently released a second). The fifteen songs here feature close and sophisticated harmonies on a wide range of songs, from the standard "Sentimental Journey" to the wry "Dead Egyptian Blues," and including a variety of original songs.

While most of the songs aren't quite a capella, they're close; the instrumental accompaniments are minimal and designed to complement the harmonies. I'm not familiar enough with the technical jargon for styles of harmony, but can tell you that Hot Soup covers quite a range, from old-timey sounds through contemporary. Varying the lead role among the singers adds to the variety.

"Lyin' on the Beach" by Ribaudo is a picture, accented with a steel drum, of a perfect day: "Glad somebody's workin' / I'm not / I'm just lying on the beach...." This is my favorite song in an album of excellent music; it captures the feel of a vacation day on the beach so perfectly.

Muir's "What Needs to Weep" relates tears to rain after a drought; its tight harmonies blend with a sparse guitar and drums for a subtle evocation of rain and thunder.

"Starsong," an original by Trainor, is one of the old-timey songs, with very close harmonies accompanied by bass, ukelele and guitar that somehow give the impression of a banjo. The subject is lovely: stargazing, with many of the stars and constellations mentioned by name. "Sunshine" also has an old-time sound with a bluegrass flair, combining a bit of "You Are My Sunshine" with the bluegrass longing for home (Sunshine being the name of the hometown longed for).

"Daisies Know," by Muir and Lois Lyman, in the folk style, is nostalgic for the time when "all the answers to questions are found / by asking the daisies and wishing on stars," in a gentle and touching song. "Time Waltzes On" is also wistful, reminiscing about a son's childhood while looking ahead to his adulthood.

Muir's "Jellyfish" has a jazz sound, and relates being stung by a jellyfish to the sting of a nasty comment in an ending romance. "Sentimental Journey" is a classic jazz tune, and done beautifully here.

"Humoresque," performed a capella, is hard to describe in subject; I'll just say that it mostly focuses on one of the difficulties of train travel, and leave it at that. It's an odd song to end an album with, but beautifully done in an almost barbershop quartet style.

"Luray Women" take a classic folk approach to this song about generations of pioneer women. "From the Lambing to the Wool" looks back on a hard life on a sheep farm, regretting none of it despite the struggle. It's followed by Trainor's "Neighbor, Lay Down," which protests ethnic conflicts by showing the details when "...neighbor fights neighbor in the name of their clan"; although it's written about Bosnia, it's equally relevant to so many of the civil conflicts that take place, all over the world.

There are several blues songs and they have slightly goofy themes. "Duct Tape Blues" is a favorite of mine, and Hot Soup's version, with bass and harmonica, is a lot of fun. It's followed by "Heebie Jeebie Blues" with a harmonic style based on a group from the 1930s (the Andrews Sisters have a slightly similar sound), and the heebie-jeebies here seem to refer to a dance. You can hear the influence of scat singing, too. "Dead Egyptian Blues" is another favorite of mine, and Hot Soup's version is the one I like the best of the several I've heard. The song juxtaposes the wealth of Tut's tomb with the realities of mummification: "Who cares how rich you are, love, you still look like Boris Karlov."

The liner notes are wonderfully extensive, including the complete lyrics to all the songs and notes about them, the musicians, and the album itself. I wish all albums had notes this good!

Hot Soup! is a wonderful album. It will have particular appeal to fans of harmony, but should attract a larger audience than that. The mix of songs and styles is varied and exciting, the original songs excellent, and the covers nicely chosen. The performances are uniformly outstanding. I'll be buying their second album, and hoping they tour where I can see them live!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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