Lois Fein

 

  Step into the Water - CD Review by Seth Edgarde, 
                                    author of Hart Island and The Devil Speaks Hungarian

 

Listening to the songs on Step into the Water, singer/songwriter Lois Fein’s debut album, is a little like putting on your favorite pair of sneakers to hike a new set of trails:  They’re warm and familiar, even as they take you someplace that you’ve never been before.  The first part is easy to explain.  “My biggest musical influences have been James Taylor, Carly Simon, David Wilcox, and John Stewart, from the Kingston Trio,” she told me recently in a telephone interview.  The second part comes from the music itself, which is a sort of clever fusion of folk, pop, and rock, with a little jazz thrown in. 

Deep and nuanced, the collection is also soft and sentimental in places, with a sense of improvisation that forms a counterpoint to its high production values.  This is a polished album, expertly produced by guitarist/composer Phil Sheeran and keyboardist/composer Ben Newhouse, with riffs and backbeats woven in seamlessly from nearly a dozen instruments, including the piano, cello, trumpet, and djembe, a kind of West African drum, rarely heard in western music.  But who better to sew the fabric of humanity into a piece of high art than a girl from Brooklyn?  “I thought of calling myself Lois Da Brooklyn,” the Los Angeles resident jokes, in a simultaneous tip of the hat to her origins and her favorite artist.

Fein brings this same playful tone to her work.  She doesn’t hesitate to give a spoken preamble to more than one of her tracks.  Most people couldn’t pull it off, but she does.  Like the grade school teacher whom you had a crush on, who first taught you to love music, and whom you never forgot, she has a way of imparting a certain wisdom through her songs, both the notes and the lyrics.  The Call, an almost mystical piece, half instrumental and half spoken, about a girl dancing in the aisle of a supermarket, is a perfect example, and it epitomizes the unselfconscious style that gives the album so much of its attitude and charm.  It also provides the perfect segue to the album’s title track, Step into the Water, a song about having the courage to engage the world by taking that first step into the unknown.

With strong vocals and sharp instrumental solos (the bluesy Wrestling with the Moon is particularly catchy) interspersed with slow and pensive interludes, and just the right number of reprisals (especially Chasing the Moon and the last track, Something Out of This Time, with Newhouse on piano), the album can almost been seen as a theme in variations, both musically and conceptually.

That it has appeal to a wide audience is not surprising: With a fresh sound and unique voice, the depth and texture of Fein’s creation is engaging on several levels, speaking truth to the human experience while still managing to entertain.  I look forward to her next album.

Step into the Water is available on iTunes, Amazon, CDbaby.com, and through Ms. Fein’s website at www.LoisFein.com