A Review of the CD
"Stranger To My Kin"
by Neal & Leandra

"Stranger To My Kin"
by Neal & Leandra

Copyright 1998
Red House Records, Inc.
P.O. Box 4044
St. Paul, MN 55104

This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 2/99
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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A quiet, intimate release packed with emotionally-laden, accessible songs, Neal and Leandra's latest offering showcases quality writing, effective instrumental blending, and especially, Leandra's sensual, inviting voice. The match of her vocals with the cuts she solos on, are heavenly twinnings.

A myriad of reflections and innermost thoughts--blessings, regrets, prayers, confessions, wishes--almost the entire spectrum of human offerings are expressed throughout "Stranger To My Kin." However, this isn't 1990s-driven angst or 12-step group litanies. It is the melting pot of human emotions, sometimes delivered sweetly, sometimes regretfully, but always succinctly.

From the opening a cappella lines of the plaintive "Penny On The Track," Leandra captures the listener's attention as she questions and wonders what her life has become:

Continuing on, she sings: She finishes with a plan to jettison her burdens: Neal's "Ready For Memphis" has an intriguing structure and unfolding--the protagonist in the song purposely heads to and arrives in Memphis, expressing his thoughts and feelings, both during the journey and after his arrival. Because of these expressions, the listener realizes this pilgrimage has importance, but has no understanding why. Nothing of consequence takes place as the song builds and builds until the very last line reveals the reason for the trip: a hoped-for opportunity to meet and shake hands with Dr. Martin Luther King. The song closes with that powerful revelation.

In retrospect, clues are sprinkled throughout: the protagonist acknowledges that he isn't colored but states it shouldn't matter in 1968, his wife is afraid he'll get hurt, garbage is piling up on the streetcorners--the late Dr. King was in Memphis to march with striking garbageworkers when he was assassinated.

A brilliant touch is opening the composition with organ riffs, reminiscent of a black Baptist church service.

"Rich" is an understated but forceful love song with a chorus that goes straight for the heart strings. Leandra's vocals and presentation on this cut make the difference in what could sound banal or trite in the hands of others. The chorus goes:

"Cry," with nary Dar Williams, Richard Shindell or Lucy Kaplansky in sight, is an attempt to recapture the past. Reflecting back to wonderful times with MawMaw and MeMa, a woman yearns to return to those youthful times where she was their princess and felt a sense of belonging. Leandra's vocals on the chorus evokes the tears she sings about: Driven by a conga backing and a nice cello touch, "Firefly" is an uplifting, literate song containing four choruses that move from negative to neutral to positive with each appearance: Heralding a mixture of faith and belief, this is a richly textured composition akin to a scriptural offering.

"Take Me Down To The Water" is a low-key but startlingly powerful offering, packing a sledgehammer-like closing. A journey of events in a young girl's life from ages 12 to 17, it is sung in a matter-of-fact style that bewitchingly belies the emotional content of the story presented.

The last and liveliest cut is "Roll Away The Stone," a plea to toss aside the barriers constructed to keep others emotionlly at bay. Sung by Neal, it contains a mantra-like chorus:

This a remarkably consistent, inspiring offering containing absolutely no filler--an enviable achievement on any release nowadays. These are two professionals at their best--grab this release and make a connection. It's a move you'll never regret.

Neal and Leandra supply vocals and acoustic guitar, backed by Gordon Johnson on electric bass; Peter Johnson on drums and percussion; Jeff Victor on Hammond B3 organ, melodica baso and harmonium; Marc Anderson on percussion and drums; Brian Barnes on acoustic guitar; Adrian Framer guitar and electric nylon-string guitar; Stevie Beck on autoharp; Rich Dworksy on piano; Jimi Englund on percussion; Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan on cello; Dirk Freymuth on electric guitar; Rob Genadek on mouth harp; Lonnie Knight on electric guitar; Karen Mueller on dulcimer, bass dulcimer, and bouzouski; and Joel Sayles on electric bass.

Track List:

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