CD review

Fred Hersch – “Songs from Home”

Fred Hersch – Songs from Home
(Palmetto Records PM 2197. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

We writers of sleeve notes, press releases and reviews (OK, it’s me, I’m guilty as charged), sometimes set off on a mission to locate the ‘emotional heart’ or ‘emotional core’ of an album. And when one has found it, there is often a feeling of arrival or even of relief. So here’s the thing: in Fred Hersch’s Songs from Home, there is no point in sending out a search party to go and look for it. The first completely affecting moment can be found more or less straight away… and then there’s another within a few minutes. And another. And so on. “Songs from Home” is a deeply felt album. One from the heart. All one has to do is to go with that.

Hersch has described the opening track, Loewe’s “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” as portraying “a hopeful yearning for a better world”. I certainly find its gentle and completely unforced lyricism irresistible. And the opening of the fourth track, Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want”, the longest on the album is a moment of utter beauty and balance. And it would be impossible to imagine the slowly unwinding contemplation of “West Virginia Rose” at any other pace. There is a feeling of complete ‘rightness’ about it.

Another feature of the album is Hersch’s almost ethereal lightness of touch, whether in the dreamy ending of “All I Want” or in the playful introductions to “After You’ve Gone” or “Get Out of Town”. There are memories of Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton in the way he treats the tunes by Turner Layton and Cole Porter, but seen through a prism of imagined weightlessness. It is not all innocence and transparency, however. There are also knottier contrapuntal puzzles to be worked through: “Wichita Lineman” starts gently and thoughtfully enough, until the lure of playing Bartók-ian (or possibly Kurtág-ian) contrapuntal games becomes irresistible.

Hersch’s sleeve-note explains the context. This album, recorded on a laptop at his home in the woods in Pennsylvania in August was spurred into life by positive comments on his ‘Tune a Day’ project recorded in the early phases of the lockdown. Those, he says, were “a great help to me as I was dealing with the loss of my identity.” The tunes here reflect the times which Hersch grew up in. He is a self-declared “child of the 60s”[…] “when the craft of songwriting was still sophisticated.” The album closes with Lennon and McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four”, in a rendition which nonchalantly and delightfully sleep-walks off into remote keys. Hersch has certainly earned the right, sixty-four being his age when he recorded the album.

Hersch concludes his sleeve note by making a wish: “I hope this selection of songs that mean something to me will bring some warmth to your days and that all of you stay well and walk with peace.” It is a hope which has been brilliantly fulfilled. This album is a complete joy, maybe even a masterpiece.

Fred Hersch’s Songs from Home will be released on 6 November 2020.

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