One’s appreciation of spoken word relies on three variables: 1) Do you like the genre? 2) Do you like the voice? 3) Do you like the words? In terms of Allegories, if the answer to these questions is yes, then the spacious, jazz-inflected music of The Dwindlers will come as an added bonus.
To many, any spoken word will be an acquired taste. While it’s the type of voice we normally hear and use, we’re not used to encountering it in music. Neither is poetry a popular genre, although one might argue that poetry surrounds us in the form of popular lyrics. Unfortunately, most poets languish in obscurity while lesser talents reap the rewards. Spoken word is poetry’s outgoing twin: a form of measured parcel, rhythm and meter, hold and release, the most famous corollaries being public speech (“Ask not what your country can do for you …”) and Shakespearean play (“To be or not to be …”). It’s easy to do, but not easy to do well.
While Michele Seaman is not the only voice on Allegories, hers is the dominant voice, dusk-inflected and thoughtful, doled out with a careful cadence. The artist possesses a calm reserve, smooth and unrattled regardless of her subject matter. Beneath her words lies a small sadness, most evident in the Spanish echo of “Dolphin”, a track dedicated to Anne Sexton (a dead giveaway) and Peter Gabriel, whose “Mercy Street” is the song’s starting point.
The punctuating bass, dancing bells and strolling percussion of “Mercy Street” act like a springboard for the words, providing them with extra power. The same is true of opening track “The Pelican and the Girl”, which is also the track with the fullest lyrics; unfortunately, they don’t match those in the printed booklet. This odd choice – the separation of poem and song – is repeated elsewhere on the album, depriving the home listener of the pleasure of following along. Better instead to concentrate on the performance: lulling, mirroring, doubling back, as on “How the Ostrich Became a Girl and her Bicycle”, the circling imitating that of a bicycle wheel; or to bathe in the warm glow of the wordless “Pickering’s Hyla”. Only one track breaks the flow: “Monkey” stumbles with the overuse of popular image (“There’s a monkey on your back”) and a stepped-up tempo.
According to the liner notes, Allegories “hopes to charm, and sometimes challenge, the listener”. The presence of comfort is not especially challenging, but it is welcome, and through wing and voice, the allegory holds true. (Richard Allen)
Release Date: March 15