Clean Slate

Eye to Eye

2005: 12th Street Records 783707301303

  1. Scenes by a Wishing Well
  2. Love Is Not Blind
  3. Last
  4. Blue Dragonfly
  5. Shoes
  6. Fly Now
  7. Mother of a Family
  8. Only Ever Now
  9. How Sweet It Was
  10. One So Unsuspecting
  11. Clean Slate

I didn’t get into this one on the first listen, nor the next several, because, despite the joy of hearing Deborah Berg’s still-gorgeous voice and the musical confection she and Julian Marshall have to offer after all this time, the lyrical content is so intently domestic that it’s almost alienating to me. Over enough listenings that barrier was surmounted and the joys were there to be had.

This isn’t a jump back to the 1980s nor a resumption of the musical direction last demonstrated by this odd pair of spirits—it’s just the reappearance of a character many years on…older but still utterly recognizable, with stories to tell as well as still having that knack for gently quirky observation and unconventional-yet-compelling phrasing. And ah, they still do have that gift of melodic line, sung as well as played. If technological developments have affected their work at all, my ear can’t discern it…they’re as independent of era as they were in the 1980s. And anyway Berg’s voice overrides most other impressions with the happy state of being only somewhat changed by time—still sublime, still a clean, friendly caress to the heart and mind.

I’m still mulling over which track to call my “favorite”—the opening track is eventually extremely catchy, but the bunch from “Fly Now” to “How Sweet It Was” all become engrossingly familiar. The two-thirds silly, one-third profound “Shoes” is its own little throwback to “Jabberwocky” on Shakespeare Stole My Baby. It’s a tribute to their work that “Fly Now” registered (belatedly) to me as referring to the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks independently of the album’s liner note regarding that fact. “Mother of a Family” is again quite family-focused but moves with such a slippery shuffle both rhythmically and melodically that it gets into a sneaky groove under the skin that I’ve come to quite like it.

“One So Unsuspecting” can’t have been an easy one to write or sing. But then I suppose the same could be said of “How Sweet It Was.” Perhaps that tells something about the title and the final track, which follows that pair. It certainly ends things with an open door rather—inconclusive but with a sense of forward motion.