What We Need Is Here
2023 / Stillpoint Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
What We Need Is Here is a collection of ten classic poems set to original music composed and performed by Lisa Reagan. A former member of the Washington National Opera, Lisa's voice is incredibly expressive and beautifully-suited to this project, which she calls a "project of the heart." Lisa began by focusing on how each poem made her feel - "I wanted to set a mood, creating a tonal palette for the words." She worked with Tony-award winning and Grammy-nominated producer/orchestrator, Jamshield Sharifi, who had a similar role in her 2021 release, Shunia, a collaboration with fellow National Opera alumna, Suzanne Jackson. The ten poems were selected from a very eclectic group of poets including Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and Robert Frost as well as contemporary poet, Wendell Berry. Most of the poems reflect on nature and its role in our lives, and I find it fascinating how that relationship hasn't changed much despite the expansive time frame of the poetry (1609-2018).
What We Need Is Here begins with the most recent poem (2018), "The Owl" by Arianrhod Bel-Moore and includes Lisa's voice and piano along with Sharifi's soaring orchestration - a great start! "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" is a poem by William Wordsworth (1807) that recalls going for a walk and happening upon a mass of daffodils growing near a lake: "Fluttering and dancing in the breeze." Truly one of life's simple pleasures, the experience stayed with him for the rest of his life! In keeping with the poem, the orchestration is minimal but lovely. "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day" (Sonnet 18) is Shakespeare's love poem for the ages and is by far the oldest of the chosen poems. It begins as a four-part choral work that feels similar to a madrigal and becomes more orchestrated behind Lisa's solo voice. "The Peace of Wild Things" (1968) is the first of two poems by contemporary poet Wendell Berry that Lisa set to music. I wasn't familiar with Berry, but will be looking for more of his work! This beautiful poem reflects on how spending time in nature and becoming one with it can soothe and bring peace to the soul: "For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." Lisa set two of Robert Frost's poems, "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" (1923) and "The Road Not Taken" (1915), to music, keeping them both heartfelt, direct and honest. "Bright Star" is a tragic love poem written by John Keats in 1818 and touches even more deeply set to music. The album comes to a close with the second poem by Wendell Berry called "The Wild Geese," which contains the words to the title of the album, "What we need is here." The music has a very strong Celtic influence that's earthy and very "real" - the perfect ending for an exceptional album.
What We Need Is Here is quite different from most of the albums that I review, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it to anyone who loves poetry and beautiful singing. There is a large selection of videos on Lisa's website about the music and the making of the album that are well-worth watching for more insight into the poetry as well as the songs. The album is available to stream from sites that include Apple Music/iTunes and Spotify.
October 30, 2023