The folk trio of Cindy Kallet, Ellen Epstein and Michael Cicone have emerged after a 15-year recording hiatus to release Heartwalk, a collection of original songs and folk favorites. While the three may have spent the past decade and a half on other projects, the warmth and sincerity on Heartwalk demonstrates they’ve lost none of the chemistry that earned them accolades on the New England folk circuit for their previous albums Angels in Daring (1988) and Only Human (1993).
The trio has performed New England’s coffeehouses and folk festivals since 1983. Ms. Kallet is a singer, songwriter and guitarist with five solo albums under her belt as well as collaborations with Gordon Bok and Grey Larsen. Ms. Epstein has more than 40 years experience as a musician and music educator, including her work as a certified music practitioner who works with ill and dying patients. Mr. Cicone has been active in the Boston arts scene since 1979. In addition to performing with Ms. Kallet and Ms. Epstein, he teaches English country dance and hammered dulcimer.
Throughout the 15 tracks on Heartwalk the musicians display a mature, gentle touch. The opening track, Farthest Field, a cover of David Dodson’s 1993 ballad, introduces gentle a cappella harmonies of old-New England folk music. The song exposes the simple beauty of the human voice and the magic of harmony. The Shanghaied Dredger is a lilting maritime fiddle shanty set in the era of the 19th century Chesapeake Bay oyster fisheries. Old Zeb is a version of Larry Kaplan’s homage to Zebulon Tilton, the Martha’s Vineyard sea captain who steered his schooner the Alice S. Wentworth through New England’s waters in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Frobisher Bay is an a cappella song about the hardships of Arctic whaling, while Since You Asked is a skillful rendition of Judy Collins’s 1967 folk classic, complete with finger-picked acoustic guitar notes and vocal harmonies.
The disc sidesteps the redundancy of many folk discs by mixing in different styles. Life Comes In is a jazzy number with a swinging bass line and finger snaps, while My Heart Is Ready is a speedy a cappella number written by Ms. Kallet that was inspired by the rapid pitter-patter of rain drops falling on a gutter.
After a pair of instrumental songs (Swampie’s Fancy and Househunting), the disc closes with Shine On, Susan Ellenton’s 1997 composition. The track’s gentle a cappella harmonies are a breath of fresh air in the era of sampling and digital enhancement, proving that the human voice, alone and unvarnished, is magic.
Singer/songwriter Ben Willmott’s debut disc was titled Nowhere To Go But Up, a self-effacing title for an aspiring artist. His piano-driven songs drew quick comparisons to Ben Folds and other narrative-driven, expressive artists. He’s currently performing over 100 shows a year of original music around the Northeast in venues as diverse as The Knitting Factory in New York city and Club Metronome in Burlington, Vt. With his latest release, Rich With Love, the 25-year old Sherborn, Mass., native and Ithaca College graduate strives to broaden his appeal with 14 full-band tracks recorded at Mix One Studios (Boston) and Firefly Recording Studios (Somerville).
The disc kicks off with Up Here At The Top, in which the narrator reflects on office dystopia, singing “I’m sick of sitting cramped over this screen, my eyeballs feel like they’re about to bleed.” Within this first track several of Mr. Willmott’s strongest cards are revealed. For starters, the kid can play piano. He has an intuitive sense of how to blend the instrument into the other instrumental tracks without overplaying or being drowned out by drums and guitars. His voice is pleasant, though it lands in the “sounds like” category rather than standing out as an original (comparisons to Ben Folds are inevitable, though if one has to be compared to a voice, Folds’s is hardly the worst).
Here and Now is an environmental plea for action before calamities like global warming ravage the planet, while Alabama is a tribute to the venerable Island schooner, with the lyric “They call her Alabama, she sails the Vineyard Sound.”
It’s Only Me features some of the best production on the disc, with rim shots, electric guitar lines and piano notes mixing with horns (the disc features saxophone, trumpet and trombone). Certain tracks suggest a developing maturity that may befuddle anyone over 30. On Fireworks he sings, “Together we will make the world a better place, armed with just each other and our faith to guide the way,” while Ithaca is pure college-years nostalgia, the kind of “wonder who’s in my dorm room now?” musing that riddles recent grads.
Popular, the proud declaration of independence from trendiness that proclaims “I don’t care if what I wear is not what’s now in style,” is an eye-roller for anyone who’s been out of high school for decades, though it may strike a chord with his mid-20s peer group (AllAgesZine.com raved “From the minute I hit play, I was sucked into this album. ...the music is simply unmatched by most of today’s musicians.”)
On the final track, Thank You, Mr. Willmott hits his stride, crafting a light-jazz piano sound that breezes along. It’s a relaxed, confident track that hints at where he’s headed as he builds on his strengths as an emerging artist.