Ute Lemper

But One Day...

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Ute Lemper, who has devoted much of her recording career to resurrecting German interwar songs, particularly those of Kurt Weill, and who included such Weill successors as Nick Cave and Elvis Costello on her last album, The Punishing Kiss, here adds her own name to the songwriting credits while continuing to find ways to explore her favorite music. This is a collection of bleak songs, influenced, one can't help thinking, by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks this immigrant New Yorker mentions in her liner notes. (The album's photographs, meanwhile, are dominated by images of the Brooklyn Bridge, including one shot in which the World Trade Center is visible.) The tempos are slow, the arrangements lushly string-filled, and Lemper, a vocal chameleon, sings in a breathy, breaking voice, beginning with Weill's "September Song." Her own contributions, which can be termed "art songs" in the sense that they dispense with such conventions as choruses or easily hummed melodies, are full of images of despair expressed in a charmingly broken English. No matter how far afield she goes, Lemper is never much removed from Weimar Germany, as "Lena," a song about a haunted Holocaust descendent living in Mexico, shows. Her most conventional original song is the title track, a lovelorn lament. The songs of Jacques Brel and Astor Piazzolla are brought in to expand on the sense of anguish and depression, and at the end Lemper returns to an old favorite, Bertolt Brecht, for "Ballad of Marie Sanders, the Jew's Whore," in which a German woman is excoriated for associating with a Jew. Lemper then closes with her own reflection on Brecht, a comment equally applicable to the troubled world situation of 2002. But One Day... is an artist's telling reflection on her own heritage and her view of the post-9/11 climate.

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