the super-awesome writer, STEVE ALMOND, wrote a lovely little review about SILVER AND ASH in his latest list of albums we should get our hands on (even though you can’t get your hands on mine yet):
Silver and Ash
A softly devastating suite of songs that reveal themselves with the slow grace of an antique music box. There’s a story here, subtle but persistent, about the people who came before us, and the miracle of our births.
thank you, steve almond!
there’s a strange lull that comes after the completion of a big project. one that i’m sure most everyone reading this has experienced. i suppose this explains my silence on the blog.
i haven’t been particularly inspired to write. at least not about the project. i wouldn’t say i’ve moved worlds away from the themes in SILVER AND ASH. i don’t think that’s possible. but in terms of my creative process, i’m taking a break. i’ve written a couple of love songs since finishing the album. and neither of them hearken back to germany in the 1930’s. (one of them is about my grandmother, jojo, but it’s entirely contemporary . . . well, almost entirely . . .)
day to day, i’m giving music lessons – broadening my horizons by learning covers to teach to my guitar students. i’m expanding my repetoire to include songs by green day, uncle kracker, jack johnson, the grateful dead, and cat power. (8-13 year olds have quite diverse – and at times mature (by my standards) – musical tastes – it’s quite amazing!) i’m giving tours two days a week, at the lower east side tenement museum. (like i said, i can’t move too far away from the themes of dislocation, loss, memory, and history . . . if you haven’t been to the museum, GO! it’s an amazing place.) i’m reading lots of novels. the book thief, a tree grows in brooklyn, jason lutes’ berlin series, the little book . . .
SILVER AND ASH is in a different place now that its creation has been completed. i’m in outreach mode. less creation and more connection. i performed the piece for college students at the university of albany in april, and again for high school freshmen at the facing history school in manhattan last month. it was incredibly encouraging to see how new audiences were connecting to the material. at the high school, the teacher, daniel braunfeld, prepared his students for my visit by reviewing the book i wrote to accompany the performance. when i arrived, they had already come up with an handful of very insightful and sensitive questions about my creative process and the experience of encouraging my grandmother to talk about her past.
i’m off to boston next week to debut the song cycle there on the 16th. i’m looking forward to another new setting for these songs. if you’re around, please come.
the show debuted at joe’s pub in new york last night to a sold out crowd. it was an amazing experience for me for too many reasons to go into right this minute. more on that later. in the meantime, here’s an excerpt from a review of the show written for nextbook by jesse oxfeld:
It’s a jarring experience at first, hearing stories of Kristallnacht, songs of lost family, memories of lost lives, while standing cheek-by-jowl at a packed bar, tumbler of Scotch in hand. And it’s unexpected to hear these things from a sultry-voiced indie-rock chick with guitar slung over her shoulder and backed by a quartet of guitarist, bassist, drummer, and electronic-gadget-player. But, soon enough, you realize that it works. The songs are lovely, and evocative, and you begin to think of Europe’s lost Jewry—of Burson’s grandmother’s lost childhood, and lost family— not as distant, sepia-toned artifacts but actual people, with immediate troubles.
Burson’s great-grandparents, planning to join their daughter in the United States, had packed up all their belongings to ship across the Atlantic as they themselves headed to Latvia, unable to get a visa. (The Wehrmacht, unfortunately, got to Latvia not too much later.) The boat containing their things, their lives and memories, was bombed before it left Europe. Near the end of her set, Burson sings of them: “Bluegreen and dappled spidery light/white wedding china/cut crystal glasses/a trunk of old linens/silver that’s tarnished/at home in the sea.” It’s a bracing new way of telling the stories we must continue to hear.
for the full article, go here.
i had the opportunity today to talk on wnyc’s soundcheck program with john schaefer. he asked me questions, i answered, and then i played a few tunes from the new album with my friend hans holzen on electric guitar. to hear the interview, click here.
this isn’t an entry so much as it is an announcement:
the multi-media performance piece created around the SILVER AND ASH song cycle will debut in new york at JOE’S PUB on THURDSAY, FEBRUARY 26th @ 7:30PM.
the official blurb about the project and the show is (for now) as follows:
After releasing 2 full length albums to critical acclaim, indie chanteuse Clare Burson has created her most ambitious project yet – a song cycle, multi-media performance, and a collaborative artist book – one that imagines her grandmother’s life in Germany, from her birth in 1919 to her escape in 1938. Thanks to a generous grant from the Six Points Fellowship For Emerging Jewish Artists, Burson has written 10 songs that inhabit and give life to this story as well as Burson’s own struggles with rupture, silence, guilt, empathy, and continuity.
The album, entitled SILVER AND ASH and produced by Grammy nominated Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Laura Veirs, Bill Frisell), is inspired by a desire for melodic minimalism, evocative imagery and subtle metaphors. From the first track to the last, distant pianos, jarring Telecasters, vintage acoustic guitars, Burson’s own lush string arrangements and rich vocals – at times wistful, at times full of desperation, but at all times direct – come together to fill the 10 songs on SILVER AND ASH with nostalgia and longing.
In a live setting, the SILVER AND ASH song cycle is transformed into a multi-media performance piece in which dream sequences and cinematic musings tell a coming of age story spanning centuries and continents. In advance of the album’s summer 2009 release, audience members at the Joe’s Pub debut of SILVER AND ASH will receive a free sampler of the album as well as a collaborative artist book created in response to the songs.
my first year in germany was an archeological expedition – in terms of uncovering the lives of my grandparents and great grandparents but also in terms of beginning to uncover the extent of my own entanglement with this buried inheritance. in studying german and german history in college and going to germany to live, i wanted to connect with the country that had shaped my grandparents, and, in turn, shaped my mother and me. i wanted to understand the societal relationships that existed in the past and the ones that did and could exist in the present and future.
i was very much alone during my year in germany, but i did end up with a network of friends who became guides of a sort as i muddled through the year. one of these guides was gottfried, a colleague at the fritz bauer institute in frankfurt. the fritz bauer institute is a research and documentation center dedicated to the history of the holocaust and its continued impact on contemporary society. i was an intern in the education department, learning about how the holocaust is taught to german school children.
a week or so into my internship, gottfried, who split his time between the institute and teaching high school, invited me to join him and his class on a trip to buchenwald, i jumped at the chance. i would be a couple of years older than the kids on the trip. i would be the only american. i would be the only jew. we would stay for one day and two nights in former ss barracks that are now used to house and give workshops to school groups visiting the camp.
the morning that we toured the camp was bitter cold. the wind cut through my thick wool pea coat. the frost on the trees was heavier than any i had seen. the structures left at the camp seemed to frame a vast space of emptiness – a field of black and grey pebbles and dirt stretching into the frosted forest beyond. i remember the word ‘nichts’ (german for ‘nothing’) repeating itself in my head.
there were five minutes early in our tour during which our guide talked to us outside in the empty field that once had been the camp’s roll call area. he gave us an introductory history of the camp and some details concerning what had happened there. we huddled together, heads down, listening.
at that moment and thinking back on it now, it seemed like we were all essentially involved in the same process of trying to understand and come to terms with something that only confounds. it felt like we were all on the edge of a deep abyss, looking down into nothingness. we stood on different sides of the abyss, them and me, the germans and the jew, yet the choice confronting us was the same: dive in, walk away or become paralyzed at the edge, unable to act.