Lily Henley / Oras Dezaoradas (Timeless Clock) (2022)
Lily Henley / Oras Dezaoradas, 2022
CDs, MP3s available available from EIJM and from fine vendors and streaming services everywhere.
Sometime in the last few years someone hipped me to an American bluegrass album by violinist Lily Henley. On the album (2012's "Words like yours") appeared songs in Ladino and Hebrew. I've listened to it for years without knowing anything more than the pleasure of this very Jewish. Ladino-Bluegrass recording. Now, Henley has released a full Ladino album, and in the process, fused old Ladino lyrics with new bluegrass/Americana melodies. The result is a stunning new Ladino album, switching back and forth between Ladino and English, that feels perfectly at home in an American audience (or a bluegrass-loving audience, anywhere).
More than half of the album consists of traditional lyrics set to new music. The songs chosen by Henley are primarily strong, willful, personal women's stories, from the opening "Duermite mi alma" in which a husbnd returns from his lover to find the house locked against him, to the heartsick "Alta alta va la luna", the wanderer in "Arvoles yoran por luvya" (In front of me there is an angel/He looks at me with your eyes/I want to week, but I am unable/I sigh....) to "Morena me yaman," in which a young woman defies village morality and promises, "Oh, the sailors/if they call to me again/I will go with them!." It is also worth noting the English ballad-like "Esta noche te amare" in which the young maiden lets in her lover, then sends him on his way: you may love me, but for me, one night was enough.
Nor is Henley's fine fiddle playing forgotten. On songs such as "Avre tu puerta serrada" or "Muza de la Kozina" it is the instrumental interplay that we remember—just solid fiddle playing with guitar and cello, accompanied by bluegrass singing in a new language, Ladino. The one traditional song on the album, played in traditional melody, "Porke yorach blanka ninya" could have been translated into Ladino from English folk ballads (but for the happy ending).
Her songwriting also captures a traditional life that feels comfortably at home in contemporary culture. In the title song she switches back and forth between Ladino and English: "I could paint the house today/I could plant the roses and the sage/I could set the pigeons free to scatter where they may/If I could just see you again." Although "La Galud" feels like an obvious song about 1492, in interviews Henley says that she was thinking more of modern exiles. In that sense, we are all in Diaspora, whether from climate change or political conflicts, and this album is our sustaining soundtrack.
This is a special recording. There is little enough Ladino released. Here is more. But, even more important, here is Ladino, even new Ladino songs written by Henley, set in the context of new American music. I was not tired of traditional songs sung well by others. We have few enough outstanding performers and recordings of such. But I am very grateful that we have, now, new Ladino music, as well; and that it is new Ladino music that I expect others to sing and carry forward, as well. New traditions. You can get your own copy at EIJM and from fine vendors and streaming services everywhere.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 10 September 2022.
Personnel this recording:
Lily Henley: vox, violin, guitars
Duncan Wickel: violin, cello, guitars, octave mandolin, piano, background vox
Haggai Cohen-Milo: doublebass
- Duermite Mi Alma—Sleep my darling (music: Lily Henley; lyrics: trad., arr. Henley) 4:08
- Avre Tu Puerta Serrada—Open your door (music: Lily Henley; lyrics: trad., arr. Henley) 5:10
- Morena me yaman—Wild girl they call me (music: Lily Henley; lyrics: trad., arr. Henley) 2:56
- Alta Alta Va La Luna—The moon rises high (music: Lily Henley; lyrics: trad., arr. Henley) 4:13
- Arvoles Lloran Por Lluvia—Trees cry for rain (music: Lily Henley; lyrics: trad., arr. Henley) 2:30
- Oras Dezaoradas—Timeless clock (Lily Henley) 3:38
- Esta Noche Te Amare—I'll love you tonight (Lily Henley) 5:17
- Muza de la Kozina—the Favorite () 2:40
- La Galud—Exile (Lily Henley; arr. Henley, Wickel, Doyle) 2:55
- Porke Yorach Blanka Ninya—Why do you cry, pretty fair maid (trad., arr. Henley) 5:26