Lori Lieberman - Bend Like Steel
2011, Drive On Records
2011, Drive On Records
Lori Lieberman has been killing them softly with songs full of poise and grace since her debut album with Capitol Records in 1972. Her poem “Killing Me Softly (With His Song)”, written after seeing a performance by Don McLean, was developed into a song by composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel. The song was a moderate hit for Lieberman, but went on to become the signature song of Roberta Flack. Lieberman went on to provide music for Schoolhouse Rock in the late ‘70’s and early 80’s. Taking off the rest of the latter decade to have a family, Lieberman returned in the mid-90’s, recording a series of albums with Indie labels. Lieberman’s latest, Bend Like Steel, shows the sort of subtle story-telling and gentle song craft that has made Lieberman highly respected by fans and peers alike.
Bend Like Steel opens with the pensive soliloquy of "If Not Now", a song about taking action to shape your own future. It's a stark opening that grows into a lovely missive that is both lonely and full of hope. "Mr. And Mrs. Make Believe" explores the tragedy of a couple who are trapped in the inertia of a relationship that doesn't exist anymore but neither has the will to talk away from. Lieberman's melody is a thing of pure beauty, and Monty Byrom (Big House) sits in ably on the duet. "Cup Of Girl" is an intriguing number that describes personal growth in distinctive imagery that mixes allegory and fact. Lieberman transcends the moment and the story here, creating an aura of magic as she unrolls a tale of mistreatment, survival and the blooming of an accomplished confident woman from the same little girl.
"Bend Like Steel" plays like a meditation on "Cup Of Girl", exploring the qualities needed to be the confident women born of her past experiences. The stripped down, minimalist arrangement is the perfect complement to a song of strength and conviction. Lieberman's cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia" is contemplative and full of sadness, beautiful in interpretation and in sharp contrast to the incredulous feel of the original. "For More" is a sweet, mid-tempo love song, a slight change of pace that will sit well with listeners serious and casual.
"My Sister's Boyfriend" is a highly personal ode to a young man who lost his life in Vietnam. The song reflects on memories of childhood, and the impact of war even while living in a place known for peace (Switzerland). The song is beautiful, and will hit home for anyone who has lost a love one at war. "Steady Heart" and "These Things" are solid album tracks, steeped in Lieberman's fine story-telling and melodies. "Netherlands" is a love song, born of deep memories stirred up by a visit to a place that will always feel like home. Lieberman's conviction here is true, pouring from every word and note like a spring. Bend Like Steel closes with "There's A Harbor" is a dreamy and pensive closer, looking forward to a time when the travels can stop and the singer can be at peace. The spiritual element of the song is deep-seated and subtle, but very much there.
Lori Lieberman delivers on her reputation as a story-teller on Bend Like Steel, charting the waters of human emotion in her songs. Lieberman's approach is generally very low key, choosing to allow the power of her lyrics and the simple beauty of her melodies speak clearly. Bend Like Steel won't blow you away. Rather, it wraps its arms around you, whispering all will be well even as it delves into love lost, death and the struggle to grow and live. Bend Like Steel is among Lori Lieberman's best work to date.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)