To All We Stretch the Open Arm


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To All We Stretch the Open Arm Review

by Heather Phares

Conceived as an album of politically minded songs, To All We Stretch the Open Arm pairs Mirah's expressive vocals with Seattle's Black Cat Orchestra's equally wide-ranging music. Recorded in early 2003, when it looked likely that America was going to go to war with Iraq, the album acts as both a rallying cry to those opposed to war and a balm to those troubled by it. Featuring songs by Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, Stephen Foster, Leonard Cohen, and Anonymous, among others, the album's tenor is still best conveyed by Mirah's cover of her own "Monument" from Advisory Committee. The song is slower, sadder, and wiser here than the previous album's quietly optimistic version, and its lyrics about "rising up in a beaten-down world" have even more resonance in their new setting (and in light of current events). While the album certainly addresses war and oppression with an appropriately somber tone (especially on Cohen's "Story of Isaac" and the sweetly earnest reading of Foster's "Hard Times"), To All We Stretch the Open Arm doesn't lose sight of how important passion and wit are to any good protest. "The Light," a new track from Mirah that also appears on her full-fledged solo album C'mon Miracle, offers hope and spirituality, while her rendition of Weill's "What Keeps Mankind Alive" is a wonderfully sardonic cabaret turn with plenty of pointed commentary. The album also includes a soulful take on Dylan's "Dear Landlord," Horacio Guarany's "Se Si Calla El Cantor," and closes with a lively version of "Bella Ciao." The instrumental pieces, such Fausto Amodei's "Per I Morti Reggio Emilia" and the anonymously written "Si Me Quieres Escribir" and "El Cant dels Ocells," add another dimension to the collection's already deep diversity. Along with Songs From the Black Mountain Music Project, To All We Stretch the Open Arm is another worthwhile collaboration from Mirah, and one that celebrates the many ways that music conveys how important peace is in the process.

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