In a collection that might be subtitled “Dialects of Awareness, Gratitude and Hope,” these songs written by Ann Hampton Callaway (some with collaborators) are meant to be uplifting, and they are. Only a few of them will be familiar. The artist’s tender heart is as present as is her multifaceted talent. In fact, many of these songs began as her poems. Her musicianship is superb, her writing collaborators and duet partners are symbiotic, and the arrangements are richly textured. There are songbook ballads, savory jazz, dashes of Latin and gospel influence, and some genial funk, yet the selections are all of a piece.
“The Moon Is a Kite” (Ann Hampton Callaway)—“I fly from my heart”—dances barefoot in a meadow and hugs oneself watching a sunset. The word “fly” arcs, creating a subtle frisson. Rhythmic, yet serene, the song hitches on a breeze and moves on, smiling. The strings create a fairy minuet in “Look for the Love”—“in everything” (Callaway). Here she sounds humble.
“Forever and a Day” (Callaway/Alan Bergman), written to express sister Liz Callaway’s feelings about her husband, is a perfect anniversary dance. “So grateful for the memories made together/And may I say, each one deserves a star.” This foxtrot has a longlined, floaty feel; the piano shimmers and the percussion is cottony, tiptoeing out.
“Love and Let Love” (Callaway/Michele Brourman)—a duet with the sandy-voiced Kurt Elling—is savory, head-bobbing funk with a higher purpose. Their voices weave together—“Trust the hand that made us exactly who we are.” Here and in the later “Hold You in This Song” (Callaway) featuring Niki Haris, a gospel influence pervades. A choir would have fun with these.
“Information Please” (Callaway/Amanda McBroom) has always been a favorite. You’ll never hear, “hey, hey” sound lovelier. Based on the true story of a child who makes a lifelong connection with a telephone operator, it’s a Fabergé egg of a tory song; its delicate workmanship is delightful and poignant. “You Can’t Rush Spring” (Callaway), featuring Tierney Sutton, glides in on vocals that conjure a haunted calliope; the piano keys land like dew. It’s hushed and echoing; we might be listening to an incantation: “It’s taken me my whole life to learn/To give each single moment its turn.”
“Finding Beauty” (Callaway) is a sinewy jazz song with rhythmic, hurry-up-and-wait phrasing. “When the road gets rough, hang in long enough/You might be surprised by a different point of view.” A super harmonica, a melodica, and a light touch on the bongos make it friendly. Callaway’s signature scat is an embrace. “I wrote this to commemorate finding the love of my life, Kari Strand.”
“New Eyes” (Melissa Manchester/Callaway), featuring Manchester, describes a couple giving their relationship a second chance. Their voices meld together and engage, the lyrics plumb the possibility, and the piano is dappled. The octaves rise with anticipation: “Missing your face at the table,” it ends beautifully.
“At the Same Time” (Callaway) recorded by Barbra Streisand for her Higher Ground album in 1997, is an anthem wrapped in sheep’s clothing. Without a mention of prejudice, guns, war, or starvation, it expresses what needs to be heard and taken in: “Think of all the hearts beating in the world at the same time.” “Wherever You Are” (Callaway) written after the death of a dear friend from AIDS and featuring Liz Callaway emerges with lustrous harmony and the hum of strings. Having missed the opportunity to say goodbye, the song yearns, reaches, remembers, and sighs.
“Perfect” (Callaway) is “a song that realized my relationship was over before I did,” she states in the liner notes. Dreamy tremolos waft down like early autumn leaves. The song is wistful, rueful, and accepting.
The collection is lovely and honest.
Ann Hampton Callaway CD-Finding Beauty: Originals, Volume 1