1993. Three years into pharmacy school. It was a tough year for me; I found third year extremely stressful. It was the do-or-die year, essentially. Fourth & Fifth years of pharmacy school, while not easy, it’s more about preparing you for a career in the profession of pharmacy. Third year, really, is the last year to weed out the ill prepared and bad test takers. Despite being a bad test taker I got through the year. I refused to do less than finish what I started. Through the whole thing, music, friends, and writing are what got me by with my sanity intact. Despite being 22 at the time I wasn't a college partier, I never went to one party. My taste in beer was too expensive and I had another costly habit: CDs.
By the time 1993 rolled around I was well into my love of female vocalists. Years before a friend played me the album Blood by This Mortal Coil. It may be a bit of an overstatement to say my music listening was forever altered that day; but if it is, it's not by much. As soon as I heard that CD, I went to Tower Records and bought it. Soon I had Filigree and Shadow and It’ll End in Tears as well. It had become important for my psychological health to find more music by the artists that performed on the songs in those albums. Sometimes it was easier than others. Sometimes it seemed I'd never find certain artists. Louise Rutkowski was one of the latter.
On the double LP Filigree and Shadow, Louise and Deirdre Rutkowski are part of my favourite songs. “Strength of Strings” being my favourite. But “Tarantula” is also great, as well as being equally amazing as “Morning Glory”; and “I Want to Live” is downright bone-chilling.
On Blood, the Sisters Rutkowski return with more great songs. “Till I Gain Control Again” teams them up with Heidi Berry. I'm telling you right now, they are a perfect example of true heavenly voices. The fact that the three of them are lending their excellence together to one song is heart and soul meltingly amazing. Then there is “I Come and Stand at Every Door.” Listen to that song to hear the power of emotional vocals. It has brought tears to my eyes and chills to my soul.
Anyway, flash forward to 1993 and I finally find an album that is just Louise Rutkowski singing. There was zero hesitation in buying it. Turns out that Louise isn't the only amazing part of the CD. Craig Armstrong is a genius as well. He scored Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, Love Actually, Ray (a Grammy award winner), and The Great Gatsby to name a few. Also joining them was Scottish playwright Peter Arnott. A brilliant musician teams up with a brilliant vocalist and a brilliant playwright. It's a musical Scottish trifecta of awesome. What could go wrong?
Musically? Nothing. The album is nothing short of genius. Listening again to HOPE has been a treat for me. I've been having flashbacks of school but it's the good things that are flashing back. Not only was this one of the CDs I listened to most while studying for exams, it's also one of the CDs I listened to while I did the activity that I used to de-stress myself: write short stories. This week that I've been listening has also brought me some of the more vivid dreams I've had in years. It’s kind of funny, the memory of that time in my life is much better than the actual time itself.
I've been trying to think about which song I can call my favourite here and go from there. The problem is that I can't. There is greatness in each track. As always, for me, it starts with the vocals: Louise Rutkowski. As I mentioned, I was heavily into female vocals (and still am, really). Louise is still able to evoke emotions unlike any other vocalist. Her range is unbelievable but it's never forced, it's true and pure. She's not trying to do any kind of vocal gymnastics (like many popular singers tend to be). Louise is able to be sultry, powerful, vulnerable, dominant, sexy, sweet, and ever hopeful. I will resist the urge to compare her favourably to other artists because it will diminish how amazing she really is. Suffice to say I would be okay only listening to Louise Rutkowski songs from here on out. She's that good.
I didn’t buy this CD for any other reason than Louise Rutkowski. I didn't know who Craig Armstrong or Peter Arnott were. It was only in writing this that I became impressed by the lineup of this album. I had even forgotten that among the producers of this CD was Eurythmics genius Dave Stewart. It also has the lovely Kate St. John on oboe, who’s CD Indescribable Night was a surprisingly good record. The excellent vocals are matched by equally excellent music. And, now for me, it makes complete sense when I consider Craig Armstrong’s film score background. While he might not need vocals to invoke an emotional response, what he does with the music to tie beautiful voice to beautiful instrumentation is beyond words. I feel bad not paying more to his career outside of Kindness of Strangers, I'm pretty sure I’ve been missing out.
The lyrics of Armstrong / Arnott paint a beautiful scene. Many scenes, in fact. This album seems to me a soundtrack to a play, maybe in an apartment complex that Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly could see from their Rear Window (probably without the murder). Louise might even be playing Ms Torso, the dancer, with a little Ms Lonelyhearts tossed in (I guess we all have some Ms Lonelyhearts in us somewhere). The Kindness of Strangers begins with its eponymous song, starting off with very This Mortal Coil strings and a warning about who to trust and the song ends with Louise imploring the disappointed party to not lose faith in the kindness of strangers. A sombre, thought provoking beginning.
“Across the Border” continues to set the stage for the tragic love-story unfolding across from Jimmy and Grace. “Tomorrow” shines a solitary spotlight on Ms Torso from afar as she sings in her Ms Lonelyhearts persona to a picture of a lover. We watch, and listen, as it runs the gamut of emotions from sad to uplifting.
“Memory Takes My Hand” feels like a slow zoom in to Ms Torso’s apartment, where we see the characters performing a sort of pantomime dance acting out the words to the song. Clearly Ms Torso is the hero of the story, dealing with the fallout of being a too headstrong woman for 1950’s America. “Walk Away” continues the narrative, I see Ms Torso dancing a ballet solo to the beginning strings and guitar. This is her song refusing to become Ms Lonelyhearts. Stepping in time to the chorus and singing to some unseen partner who may or may not be about to leave, or may or may not be actually there at all.
“Oh My America” and “Live in the World” see the narrator (Ms Torso? Louise?) being that headstrong woman that the 1950s can’t seem to handle. Whether or not she’s speaking directly to her part time lover does not diminish the power and uplifting message of her words. “Sunday” returns us to the forlorn Ms Torso-determined-not-to-be-Ms-Lonelyhearts persona, still strong but still vulnerable as well. “The Day That I Found Love” is another scene in the apartment across the way, I can just picture her speaking to a new soon-to-be lover in this story where she still is the dominant player.
“Shelter For Love” is perhaps the most dynamic song, a positive motivational song taking you on a journey of self-actualization. It’s a beautiful ride to be on, the kind of ride you want to either have yourself or have for someone you love who deserves it. “Desire” is the earworm of the album for me. There have been nights these couple of weeks where this song is going through my head as I go to bed. Which would be fine, except that it’s more of an upbeat anthem than a goodnight lullaby.
The album closes with a reprise of the opening song “The Kindness of Strangers”, ending the way it began with beauty, sadness, but most importantly, HOPE. This is one of the most beautiful albums that I have but the overarching theme of HOPE is rare and to be cherished. This album needs to be cherished.
Check some videos out from the album below, to really understand the beauty of the album.
Please go to Pledgemusic and help make the New Album by Louise happen!!!!