The tape begins with a lonely violin, melancholic in nature. Letha and Dan are married, and Letha is battling Stage IV melanoma and breast cancer. This elegiac work testifies to art as a statement of life.
Letha’s side is stunning, a suite of disjointed memories, whispers and strings. “Marsh of Decay”, sets the stage for an emotional journey. We can’t help but think of the artist’s condition while hearing the wordless vocals, the approaching rain, the pop of a needle. “Cleomedes” introduces looped, distorted squelch, a nod perhaps to the astronomer’s discovery of the difference between the perceptual and actual size of the moon. Taken as a metaphor, the same might imply the difference between a crisis and one’s reaction to the crisis. In this case, the reaction is a reaffirmation: I am vibrant, I am whole.
These songs would beguile even without the background story. “And all the blues of you,” a woman sings on “Messala”, as a theremin tone beckons one to sleep. “I’m not scared for you.” The titles refer to lunar craters, conjuring associations with ancient goddesses, astronomers, skygazing and wistful wishes. The suite follows the path of Handbook for Mortals (which also includes rain in the opening track and includes an ode to the Sea of Tranquility) and more obviously, Moon Mountain. Wonder is apparent throughout. Only on the closing track, “On Hold With Glen”, does stark reality intrude. On the one hand, the listener thinks, “if only this is what we heard when put on hold”, but on the other, one remembers the situation that Letha is in.
Dan responds on Side B with a collage of his own. Known primarily for his bass and vocal work, he has been nudging closer to the instrumental and downtempo worlds and continues this journey here. “Paulix Redux Three” sounds like confusion and yearning, a jumble of song and speech fragments laid across a bed of occasionally dissonant notes. Is this what it feels like to care for a loved one, to cede control to doctors, to yearn for an accurate diagnosis and a more effective treatment? When the bass begins to play, it does so in a vacuum, and is swiftly defeated by horn and hospital tones, the most disturbing sounding like the tools used to suck spit from the mouth or fluid from the lungs.
More hopefully, Dan also integrates the sound of birdsong, echoing an earlier use by his wife. In Dan’s case, a contrast is created between the sound of birds, a dull TV segment and the sound of sawing, an indication perhaps of the dueling emotions of a caregiver: encourage, give in, distract one’s self with work. One thing is certain: together this couple has produced an unflinching portrayal of strength in the face of illness. All proceeds go to the Letha Rodman-Melchior Cancer Fund. We wish the couple our very best in the days and years to come. (Richard Allen)