Album review: Give Schmidt’s new album a whirl
Let’s get one thing taken care of right away: “New Whirled Order” is a terrible album title.
Moving on. Here we have Claudia Schmidt’s first album in more than a decade, and it’s a cozy collection of folk music with jazz, blues and soft rock touches. Schmidt, who released her first album in 1979, is a confident singer with worldliness to spare, and she is loath to fall into the hoary folk clichés that entrap so many who sail similar waters.
The album is dedicated to Schmidt’s late mother, Jane, and it seems that Schmidt had her mom on her mind while she wrote the lyrics. From the first track, “Always,” there is a sense of loss that permeates the record’s compositions, but Schmidt artfully, mindfully avoids getting too emotional or down about her mother’s departure. Instead, she sings brightly about love and forgiveness and one’s place in the universe without sorrow, but not without a bit of edge.
“I already know I love you / I cannot take it back,” Schmidt sings on “Always.” “You already know you love me / it’s in your body’s hum / it longs to join the heavenly song that’s heard by only some.”
Schmidt ends the song with a sketch of a whisper of love coming through a “barely open door,” and then an exhortation to “kick that door wide open, my friend.” It’s a bit of violence that helps to offset the falsetto-laden folk niceness of the track.
In “Sea of Forgiveness,” Schmidt talks about mistaking buzzards for eagles and then reaches the conclusion that “Hey, buzzards aren’t so bad / you know they have a job to do / they do it well and move on through.” It’s good to hear a folkie getting darkly funny. So often the genre is the bastion of unrelenting po-facedness, and Schmidt’s rejection of that archetype is refreshing.
In “Nothing,” some humor helps cut the “today, I’m just a woman” humbleness of the song — “I’m a girl in my pajamas,” Schmidt sings — and lines about “tyrants” and “despots” lend the composition balance.
But the real focus of the collection is Schmidt’s Carole King-esque voice. It’s a nice, flexible, malleable instrument, as one would expect a seasoned performer like Schmidt to possess. It’s well-suited to sparse jazz like “Dawn Star” as much as it is to emphatic pop like “Coward in the Face of Love,” and it even sounds good reciting poetry, as on “Longing.”
Overall, this is a well-recorded, well-played and well-crafted album that fans of folk and jazz styles should respond strongly to. It sounds like the work of a relaxed, assured artist with plenty to say. This record definitely deserves a — wait for it — whirl.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claudia Schmidt / “New Whirled Order”
Recorded at: Signature Sounds, Pomfret Center, Conn.
Produced by: Claudia Schmidt, Dean Magraw and Mark Thayer
Personnel: Claudia Schmidt (vocals, 12-string, mountain dulcimer), others
Listen to: “Already”