For the last few months here at Jasper, we’ve had a submission that we didn’t really know what to do with—a CD, a collection of something in between songs and poems, put out by poet Cassie Premo Steele and musician Russ Eidson, called The Pomegranate Songs. We reviewed the book of the same name when it came out, although this sort-of companion wasn’t mentioned, and I felt like this was inevitably going to be more of a spoken-word extension of that collection (with background music) rather than a standalone album in and of itself.
Of course, the easiest way to figure out the thing was to give it a listen. The results were a bit more surprising—there is far more of Eidson here, who does the majority of the singing and whose Americana-flavored guitar accompaniment and subtle keyboard and mandolin touches in many ways define the listening experience. Steele reads some of her poetry, sometimes alone, sometimes in call and response to Eidson, and tentatively sings a few as well. The sense you get more than anything, though, is that these are poems reimagined through Eidson’s musicality, finding different rhythms and meanings, melodies and resonances, in reading a book of poems. Everything is doused in reverb and given a heavy, evocative feel, lending a reverential atmosphere to the proceedings.
And it’s well-done, for the most part, although the question of audience remains. These are not-quite songs, as even at their folkiest they seem to work better on the page than sung aloud. Most music fans, I imagine, would find these recordings charming and soothing, but with an odd balance of meditative and easy listening that does not create a whole lot of earworm stickiness. Poetry fans might be better served, particularly given the sense of process and re-imagination at work here, with a male musician giving Steele’s eco-feminist ruminations a startling twist. And the sense of exploration—and sense of daring—that comes from a poet tackling the vulnerable project of singing her words also has its own intriguing appeal.
In the most artistic sense, then, The Pomegranate Songs, as a recording, is a success, and worthy of at least your curiosity.
-- Kyle Petersen, music editor, Jasper Magazine
(editor's note: This is a revised version of the original blog post.)