There are many ways to get to know a person but none like hearing someone sing and play their own music. Whether people aim to present themselves truthfully or not, the voice never lies. And Amy K Bormet’s latest project “Tell Me What It’s Like” lets us know what’s been on her mind these last two years.
“Tell Me What It’s Like” is a beautifully intimate and audacious solo project for voice and piano. The album gracefully beckons us with its opening composition “Homecoming”. Reassuring like familiar furniture Bormet serenades us into the living room of this sonic adventure. And then right away she brings us into what mistakes and missteps have been made in the song “My Dear Friend”. While upbeat on the surface Amy reveals the sadness and longing of lost friendship. Moaning the melody away, it’s clear there’s no coming back to where we started.
Memories linger yet again as Bormet unveils another level of vulnerability in the song “Otella”. Through breathy calls and quiet yells reminiscent of singers like Bjork, “Otella” delves into the truth and isolation of mental illness and more specifically suicide. “Muddy and opaque I wade in the water of old cedar lake” Amy sings these lyrics with a desperate insistence. Her playing also materializes differently than on other tracks. It is demanding yet fragile. Before the last refrain we hear the deep and low pounding of her piano playing that calls to greats such as Nina Simone before Amy gives the last iteration of the melody. But it is tired, more tired than it even started. This song echoes in the silence after it has left.
However, we are brought back to solid ground with “Hymn of Revelation”. Here Bormet reveals her R&B and Jazz inflections. There is a spunk and uplift that emerges as this song opens up in the solo section. Despite the refrain “there’ll be no peace”, we hear light on the horizon bringing a kind of hope. Change is here and maybe that is better than peace.
It’s a good time to slow down with “Tell Me What It’s Like”, the title track of the album, which feels like it resounds just south of Appalachian mountains and female country music trios before spilling into ”Song About Us”. Amy returns to our favorite piano bar as she then leads us into the world with the promise of love.
Bormet bookends this album with themes of liberation and isolation with the final composition “Jealous of The Birds”. With swirling parts Amy reminds the listener of possibility and expansion through a round of voices and soloing piano. It is a dance of birds and the potential dance of bodies longing to escape the trappings of home and the struggles therein. There is a palpable longing in the lyrics “migrating to different routes close together, free”. Carefully Bormet wraps the listener up in this one last musical blanket before releasing us into the messy, loving and painful truth of living.
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Having heard these songs grow through time they are yet again renewed as unified in this absolutely gorgeous document of unlimited textures, depth and feeling. Slices in time delivered through outstanding musicians, internalizing and embodying the composer's conception and imparting the love that takes those intentions a few steps further. Fully realized, though still searching. From DC to the world! This suite is a great gift. Music for a journey of spirit. Those who have ears, let them hear. John Cook