Losing a parent is traumatic, but remembering a parent can be therapeutic, as proven by Rael Jones on Mother Echo. The album is a heartfelt tribute to the composer’s mother, released on the fifth anniversary of her death. Piano and string quartet combine to form an elegant, frame-worthy photo.
Jones admits that the early days were hard. Haunted by a recurring nightmare (sketched on the cover), the artist over time reevaluated the meaning of the dream, trading fear for poignancy. “Ascension” is a reflection of the journey traveled by the living and the dead. The fact that this was recorded during Jones’ wife’s pregnancy adds another layer of emotion; as part of the string quartet, she serenades one person home while coaxing another to arrive.
While one might expect the tone to be either morbid or mournful, it is neither; instead, one feels waves of love and letting go: a bittersweet combination, suffused with hope. Some of the saddest strings are saved for “The Catastrophist,” but one receives the set as an arc leading to “The Valley of Desolation,” which sounds incredibly down save for the note that the name refers to the title of the river area where the ashes were spread. Now that time has passed – a factor referred to in another title – it’s likely that the performers play the music differently than at first, in the same way as mourners relay memories with tears at the start, but gratitude in the years to come. In this case, the echo is heard as beauty.
By the opening of “The Syntax of Things,” the mood has lightened considerably. For the first time since the beloved’s passing, one can imagine dancing. Then the album enters a quiet, reflective, ivory phase. Something internal shifts to a better place. As the strings rejoin the sonic ocean, the river returns to the sea. In the conclusion of “Valley of Desolation,” the strings rise to crescendo, muting sorrow and dispelling fear. The nightmare is now a happy dream. (Richard Allen)