One of the most beautiful covers we’ve seen all year graces one of the year’s most elegant recordings. Sean McCann’s Recital label is not known for playing it safe, and on this release, the label stretches its wings even further.
One would not normally expect to find an opera singer at A Closer Listen, but Ian William Craig is the rare exception. The reason: this isn’t opera. A Turn of Breath is instead an exploration of the human voice, paired with its highest aspirations. Craig’s tones are pure as prisms, steeped in sadness and yearning. On this work, his voice is layered, reverberated, distorted and filtered through reel-to-reel tape. Choral elements abound, but this is all Craig. At times his voice comes across like a sunspot, at other times a solar flare. It’s the sound of a voice on the other end of a bad connection, straining to get through; the signal sputtering in a dust-laden atmosphere; the glimpses of the spiritual that start to dissipate as soon as they are seen.
Flip the script and one encounters an entirely different recording. Instead of signals trying to break through, one may hear the indomitable nature of the human spirit. The voice represents the purity of humanity, attempting to plod forward, accumulating dust and detritus, sorrow and anger, guilt and sin. And yet the feet still stumble onward, even against a stiffening wind. This latter interpretation is supported by the arc of the album, which allows more clarity to break through as it progresses: first words, then phrases, and finally, in the closing tracks, stanzas. The effect is cathartic; after a long struggle, the burdens fall away. The tether has been cut; the spirit is free to rise.
The press release calls A Turn of Breath “a very pleasant listen”. But it’s so much more than that. This record possesses the potential to reach the soul. Few very recordings are able to plant seeds so deeply. To the mournful, it may come across as solace; to the broken, hope. What is pure is eternal. This is the sound of the eternal attempting to reach us; but it is also the sound of our own sullied nature: a scratched and clouded surface that hides a kernel of light. (Richard Allen)