Diane Taraz's Beat of the Heart is an exuberant joy of an album. This engaging, dulcimer-driven collection of folk songs is balanced between the time polished and the shining new, all given spirit and warmth by Taraz's excellent delivery.
Taraz's voice is rich and engaging, with the finest qualities of a storyteller and a vocalist. She is capable of hairpin shifts in pitch, soft whispers of melody and extravagant vocal acrobatics; more importantly she knows when to apply these tricks. She has an equal skill in crafting just the right music for a tale; Longfellow's poetry rarely sounds more eloquent than in Taraz's musical delivery of "The Children's Hour." Even venerable traditional tunes, like "Eileen Aroon" and "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" are given deft and effective makeovers, emerging as improved mirrors of their usual selves.
Though Taraz borrows from the best, the high points of this album are the many original songs. The ode to "Les Filles Du Roi," the French women recruited to help settle Canada, is a clever and warmly humorous look at an often difficult life shared by three friends. "The Wreck of the Caspian" seems to be caused as much by the tension of the building chorus as the storm waves, and the ending is made cathartic with the almost laughable description of the heroic canine savior. There are also treasures of instrumental skill on display. Taraz's guitar provides a surprisingly strong backbone for the majority of the album, working with Seth Connelly's bass to give these buoyant songs a solid footing. David Langford provides excellent fiddling, shown off to good effect in "Celina." Chris Turner's harmonica is less pervasive but used to good effect in all its appearances, and his amazingly soft touch with the jaw-harp is essential to this version of "Froggy Went A-Courtin'."
Taraz's evident joy in her craft makes Beat of the Heart
an album suited to the finest spring day, and sure to brighten the most
oppressive winter fog. With 14 tracks of old and brand new folk
songs, there's ample reason for replays and enough layers and
lyrical beauty to hold a repeat listener's attention. Beat of the Heart
is a great introduction to Diane Taraz's work, and a fine
addition to any folk lover's library.
-- Sarah Meador