Even beyond work as a Language Arts tutor, I tend to classicality in poetry, greatly favoring elders like Milton and Marvell, while also looking well upon Dickinson, Williams, Masters, and others. Equally paleolithic in my literature choices, I find almost nothing worth picking up in moderns, time-wasting gibberish tomes by scribblers with nothing worthwhile to say. When New Age reared its effete head, the whole event was a good deal less than impressive, populated by dilettantes like Dan Millman coming across as little more than saccharine and pathetic. If I want Yogananda or Castaneda, I'll read them, not some whitebread watery syrup substitute. I'm afraid I have somewhat the same reaction to the poet's wordsmithing here. Brian Michael Tracy is of a school imagining mundanely measured pace and slightly altered prose to be poetry. T'ain't. His imagery's ordinary, metaphors obvious and cliché, and the meandering narrative lacking in verve. Some lackwit had the effrontery to compare his work with the haiku of Basho, and, as an aficionado of the irreverences of Ikkyu not to mention his far more oblique and mysterious haikus, more than a little studied in zen, I find the conflation trite, forced, and ignorant.
However, all that said, as a critic readily mindful of art properly executed, I take this product on its merits and, in that, Tracy's poetry works beautifully. One could well be put in mind of the experiment Harold Budd tested with his own poesy and music in By the Dawn's Early Light, a disc which came off stiffly, wooden despite Budd's oft gloriously Impressionistic instrumentals. In this release, with truly tasty musical interludes by Hill and Safier, the combination of all-in-all works marvelously, a flowing tapestry almost documentarian in its ease and mellow wistfulness. In fact, Tea may well be the best such work yet concocted in this direction. The Celestial Navigations crew (Geoffrey Lewis et al) is a buncha Harlequin Romancers in comparison, and the too many decades-collected indie one-offs attempting the same task have been gooey and meretricious by default.
As with her and Andy Hill's Dylan tribute disc (reviewed elsewhere), Renée Safier's superb vocal work is the main attraction, but Hill, as compared to his presence in that CD, has matured appreciably, his voice far more musical, sonorous in new levels, assuming the instrumentality all good vocalists inevitably adopt. Marty Rifkin's work is again omnipresent, though not as noticeably or as rivetingly as on the Dylan affair. Hill has stepped more to the front and quite properly so, seeming to have taken an impressive lesson from his partner, imbued with passion and nuance. Safier, on the other hand, has remained as she has always been, singing from heart and soul, perfectly centered, smooth as silk while lithely dipping into gospel (Down to the Water) alongside with the expected folk, country, and balladry. The Water is Wide, a prime example, lusters itself in mournful beauty, madrigal from the heartland.
Finally, then, despite my opening literary bitching, Midnight Tea is a unique piece of modern Americana with few equals, nor is it likely any will arise soon. It isn't easy establishing this sort of mixed creation—just ask David Axelrod and other sometime antecedents.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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