Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
a wind has blown the rain away
by Todd Almond, Ellen Mandel & E.E. Cummings
Brite Records (659057906720)
I’ve had Ellen Mandel and Todd Almond’s a wind has blown the rain away in my CD player for the past three weeks now and I still can’t get enough of it. Perhaps it’s because of the beautiful, lyrical settings of some of EE Cummings’ most powerful poems. Or perhaps its because of Almond’s rich voice, full of intonation and gesture – you can almost see his furrowed brow and the joy as he moves through the highs and lows of Cummings’ work. It’s both of these things, but above all, what makes this collection great is Mandel’s deep, inherent love of the poetry. The music not only supports and highlights the pieces, it enhances them. On the title song, which remains my favourite, the piano comes in like wind, moving playfully in and out, and working perfectly with Almond’s insistent “Wind, wind, wind”.
The music varies from delicate and light such as “In Just Spring” where you can almost hear the sunshine and children’s play to dramatic and dark as on “Orientale I: I Spoke To Thee”. Some songs are particularly playful, such as “Buffalo Bill’s Defunct”, which is as funny as it is profound with its final dramatic bang of notes . “Jimmie’s Got a Goil” is similarly humorous with Almond really drawing on the word “goil”, and the playful way in which he enunciates the distinctive spellings so that the naivety and lightheartedness of the original is made apparent. There are many versions of this song, but Mandel’s is the one that, to me, seems to pick up on the distinctive sprightliness of the text itself, emphasising the “shake, shake shake.”
The CD ends with the stunningly beautiful rendition of “little man” which any parent or person who has loved a child will find moving in the extreme: “halt stop forget relax wait”. It’s also applicable to all of us, “in a hurry full of an important worry”. The music has a regular quality – like the ticking of a clock, reminding us how quickly life flies by. As with all the songs, Almond’s voice is full of care and tenderness.
Though I imagine it would be easy for Mandel to grandstand or write flashy piano, in every piece, the music is delicate and subservient to the words – it’s all about Cummings and enhancing, and drawing out the meaning of each piece such that they become fresh and new. Lovers of Cummings’ poetry won’t be disappointed with this CD, which is deeply engaged with the original poetry. Those not already familiar with Cummings’ poetry may well become fans, but all listeners will become fans of Mandel and Almond’s delicious and deeply powerful songs.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.