Songs and Lullabies is an extremely apt title on this duo recording by pianist Fred Hersch and vocalist Norma Winstone. Accompanying Winstone, Hersch plays elegantly enough in an understated way. He has written the music and Winstone has provided the lyrics and the voice. It is a quiet, gentle album that, as the title notes, can lull one into slumber.
There is a slumber factor because there is little differentiation in the melodies. There are all strung together like pearls. Each is pretty, but they are pretty much all the same in shape and texture. So, if the tunes don’t provide anything beyond subtle characterization, then the focus should be on the strength of the lyrics.
Sometimes the lyrics sound like inspirational musings that Al Franken used to parody on Saturday Night Live. On ‘Song of Life’ these words are sung: "As the sun is breaking through/Suddenly everything’s alive in the singing air/Time to stop and stare/Live the precious day until it’s gone." On ‘Bird in the Rain’: "A bird, sitting very cold and still/His wings tried to shake away the rain that fell/And then he began to sing.... /What a world inside his song!/It flowed like a liquid sweet and strong/Each note was a celebration of life."
Other times the words feel harlequin-sweet about romance. On ‘A Wish’: "No heart at my door/No cards from someone I adore/And yet it seems, you are the focus of my dreams/I only wish that I could be your Valentine." On ‘Songs & Lullabies’: "Perfect is he/He’s made her heart a prisoner/And for her it’s something that will always stay/Immovable, powerful."
‘The Eighth Deadly Sin’ shows spark and tension. Hersch and Gary Burton on vibraphone skillfully punctuate the words about "the deadly sin that’s called procrastination." This theater piece allows Winstone to stretch her vocal range and allows her to express her wit.
Winstone has a lovely voice, but the material could be stronger. During 2003, she will be touring in a work that will comprise of compositions by Hersch based on the poetry of Walt Whitman. This may be a better forum to appreciate the strengths of Winstone and Hersch.