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The Joni Hole
Robert Urban roberturban.com

LET IT FALL contains 9 original songs plus a cover of Joni Mitchell's WILLIE. Several old friends come to haunt this listener via pianist/singer/ songwriter RICHARD ISEN's fine new solo CD. The first is ISEN himself. Ten years ago I had the pleasure of arranging his difficult piano-based art songs for guitars and bass - as commissioned by NYC singer Eve Martinez - for her concerts and recording. Having not heard of the reclusive Isen since then (his new re-appearance finds him transported to SF from NYC) - I'm happy to report he has re-emerged into the spotlight with all his gifts intact.

On his new effort, Richard plays piano; sings all the lead vocals (in a lovely soft, crooning baritone) and most harmonies; and also contributes sampled bass, percussion and a variety of orchestral instruments. Our mutual old friend Eve Martinez adds some exquisite vocals harmonies.

The song structures on LET IT FALL do not conform to currnet or typical "pop" types, which is very refreshing. The choruses and verses (if one can call them that) seem to flow on from some inner unknown force... in a rambling... stream of consciousness kind of way. There is a deep, touching beauty to the playing, singing, poetry and overall sonic effect.

Much of Isen's lyrics are remembrances of some kind, esp of childhood, and I dare anyone to listen to LET IT FALL without drifting off into personal remembrances of their own. There is a certain hypnotic "free association" effect going on here....

In describing Isen's songs, I must refer to another old "friend", whose influence permeates his work as much now as it did 10 years ago. Yes, the aura of Joni Mitchell hovers over these songs like ghostly guardian angel. Richard Isen has Joni Mitchell down. The piano style, the lyrics, the way he turns a melodic phrase, the dangling unresolved tones, that sense of something indescribably delicate brushing up against THE NOTHINGNESS, that "certain slant of light" quality ala Emily Dickinson - it's all there.

Here's one difference between the two. Classic Joni would always treat us to some light-hearted uptempo (Chelsea Morning, Paved Paradise, etc.) before inevitably spiraling down to that dead end black hole of existential emptiness - a "joni-hole", if you will - the one that would leave all listeners slain with sudden enlightenment of The Void (Song to a Seagull, For Free).

In his own way, Richard Isen BEGINS in the "j-hole" and really never leaves it! Listening to the entire LET IT FALL leaves this listener with a feeling similar to that felt after seeing the film "Sixth Sense". All is haunted... evanescent... lost.

All is an attempt to recapture or remember something too fleeting to reach.... All is not sure how the present has come to be what it is... LET IT FALL makes me feel like I did when I first started listening to songwriters like Joni Mitchell - a long time ago... when the songs made such an impression... it's all a bit too spooky for words. Richard Isen has that gift.

   

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