Sunday, July 30, 2006

Toshi Reagon, Have You Heard

Dirty Linen, April/May 2006

Toshi Reagon
Have You Heard

Toshi Reagon has depth. She sounds like someone who’s not only experienced everything she sings about, but triumphed over it. Like that triumph didn’t come easy, and like she’s filled with gratitude and occasional regret and a whole lot of living in the here and now. Like she’s never tired of laughing.

The title track of her sixth full-length album folk-rocks the black gospel song with a joyousness tinged with dangerous fire. How someone can take wheels and doves and other standard-issue God-stuff and make such fresh music out of it is a mystery nearly as great as those evoked in the song itself. “Down to the Water,” likewise, makes the old images new again. The vigor of Reagon’s alto is matched throughout by its plainspokenness; oh, she can wail and moan like any other soul stirrer but she generally chooses not to on this collection. The eroticism of “Building Blues” and “22 Hours” is hushed and subtle, carried as much by the steady rhythm of her guitar and the lyrics—for example, in the latter, “See how high you can take me/See how long ’til you make me/See how far ’til you break me”—as by vocal attitude.

Not every song is as remarkable as these, but even the lesser numbers, like the standard-issue soul chant “Didn’t I Tell You,” shimmer with energy. There are a lot of players on this disc, among them Mark Anthony Thompson (a.k.a. Chocolate Genius) on harmonica and backing vocals, Glenn Patscha on organ and keyboards, and Robert “Chicken” Burke on drums, but the sound is remarkably uncluttered, thanks to the nimble touch of producer Craig Street. At its best Have You Heard soars to heights of spiritual and erotic longing few artists can even attempt to scale.

Pamela Murray Winters (Churchton, MD)

No comments: