The early years of the twenty-first century have seen the rise of a new kind of diva, dynamic in her emotional range and diverse in her genre-crossing ability to express that range. Norah Jones, Feist, and Corrine Bailey Rae are but three examples of this phenomenon. Now with the release of her Sunnyside debut, The Truth About Suffering, the radiant and ebullient singer/lyricist Jamie Leonhart, joins that compelling company.
The songs on The Truth About Suffering are about many things: love, vulnerability, perspective, patience, and trust. In the hands of an immature singer, this content could lack depth. That’s not the case with this vocalist, who introduces herself to the world in a perfect state where her maturity, confidence, and creativity are in perfect alignment.
“These songs talk about the truth … the truth about being uncomfortable, fitting in or not fitting in, and addressing and sometimes accepting flaws and faults,” Leonhart says. “A lot of the tunes explore that: the human condition in its most basic form. The more intimate and specific I am with my lyrics, the more I hear from people that a song really ‘spoke to them’ – that I captured the sentiment that they were struggling to put to words, or felt alone in. So something very personal and intimate becomes universal.”
Bringing Leonhart’s artistry to fruition is her husband, trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Michael Leonhart, who produced, arranged and mixed the CD. Backed by a rhythm section that includes bassist Gary Wang and drummers Marc Dalio and Joe Strasser, Leonhart wraps his wife’s lithe and lyrical, three-and-a-half octave voice around a world in which Kurt Weil-meets Alice in Wonderland-in the Village Vanguard, inhabited by woodwinds, strings, vibes, and exotic instruments like the glockenspiel, mellotron, harmonium, toy celeste, and mellophone.
“Michael’s style as a producer and arranger is really unique,” Leonhart says. “He takes these songs that are beautiful and full when performed with a simple piano/bass/drums trio and blows them up into these epic, somewhat bombastic, very fantastical creations with a real dreamy quality to them that allows strange and uncommon instrumentation and musical pairings. Everything comes together in a fantasy, but with a grounded quality.”
With the exception of the waltzy, foreboding “Rainbow Connection” from the 1979 Muppet Movie, all of the music on this CD was written or co-written by Leonhart, including the noir-cabaret cadences of “The Spider & the Fly,” the funereal “Satisfy Your Soul,” the tongue-in-cheek “Encomium,” and the brush-stroked, plaintive title track.
Leonhart’s gifts as a lyricist spring from her love of poetry, and on this CD, she sets three poetic works to music. She delivers a jazzy take on “Who Says The Words” by the legendary Persian poet Rumi. “I’m a huge Rumi fan, and of Coleman Barks’ translations in particular,” she says. “‘Who Says Words,’ is kind of a meditation about noticing your own ‘bad’ behavior but not doing anything to change it. There’s a passive struggle in it that I am very attracted to. I set the poem to a melody, and then sat down with Michael and constructed all the chord changes around it.” She adapts two selections by friend and erstwhile poet Nicholas Bleiberg: “After the Rain,” and “Area,” based on “Area Three,” a work that deals with relationships in three interpersonal dimensions.
“Area” also provided the title of Leonhart’s 2002, six-song EP, followed up by another independent production, Forward Motion in 2006, a precursor to The Truth About Suffering.
released January 15, 2008
Jamie Leonhart - glockenspeil, harmonium, vocals, violin, drums, melodica
Gary Wang - acoustic bass
Marc Dalio - drums
Paul Olenick - trombone
Kathie Sheele - english horn
Christine Kim - cello
Michael Blake - flute
Joe Strasser - drums
Steve Bernstein - tuba
Peck Allmond - bass clarinet
Rob Jost - french horn
Amy Kimball - viola, violin
Gili Sharett - bassoon
Kathie Sheele - oboe
Stuart Bogie - clarinet
Aaron Johnson - trombone
Leon Michels - tenor saxophone
Nick Movshon - drums
Tom Abbs - tuba
Mat Fieldes - acoustic bass
Michael Leonhart - piano, vocals, vibraphone, guitar - electric, flugelhorn, glockenspeil, harmonium, organ, trumpet