TITLE: WORDS LIKE YOURS

ARTIST: LILY HENLEY

LABEL: SELF

RELEASE DATE: 2013

By Jonathan Shifflett

Lily Henley Words Like YoursLily Henley's EP Words Like Yours is soothing, frenzied, sacred and profane all at once. Electrically imagined but acoustically delivered, one could call it a fusion of Sephardic Ladino melodies and Scotch-Irish fiddling. More accurately stated - it is an expression of a young woman straddling her ancestral cultures, spontaneously manipulating her inborn musical impulses.

Hailing from New York City, the New England Conservatory graduate developed her Scottish fiddling influences in the Boston string band. Following a transitional period, she moved to Tel Aviv where she met Omer Avital, a renowned jazz bassist who had long been drawing inspiration from popular Israeli folk tunes. Henley was moved by how Avital used his Western musical training to elaborate on popular Israeli folk tradition and it wasn't long before she envisioned how the Ladino songs she knew as a child could be coupled with her Celtic and Americana upbringings.

She recruited her band of crackerjack string players through connections in the Boston scene. Dominick Leslie, Duncan Wickel, Jordan Tice and Haggai Cohen-Milo play the mandolin, fiddle, guitar and upright bass respectively, bringing together their backgrounds in Old-Time, Bluegrass and Jazz in the service of Henley's potpourri of originals and traditionals. With so many different influences at play, the group achieves remarkable cohesiveness. Henley reveals - "we always look at the melody and try to figure out what the melody is telling us to do with it."

Avital acted as producer during the arranging and recording sessions, his presence lending authenticity to the group's performance. Each of the seven tracks were recorded in Boston after hashing out the arrangements, and then sent to Nashville for a final mastering. Henley says, "I wanted it to be pristine and professional but I also wanted a little bit of that sound like when you put a tape recorder on in the kitchen."

Each tune shows the band swapping a variety of styles that defy the string band idiom. Two Birds, mimics the flight of winged protagonists with giddy string arpeggios framed inside of a three against four polymeter. Hummingbird sits back on the beat, strumming out minor verses and contrasting them with a catchy major chorus. Her Song swaggers to guitar and mandola picking and strumming while a lament for a woman stuck in a man's world unfolds. Only Once is a longer form composition that builds from a soothing chorale into a shake-your-tail-feather style refrain.

Ladino is a Hebrew infused dialect of Spanish and, in addition to Hebrew and English, is one of the three languages Henley utilizes on Words Like Yours. Due to the wide geographical range of Ladino speakers, the melodies have no traditional musical accompaniment. They depended instead on whatever regional instrumentation was available. An oud or bouzouki works just fine, but, if you've got a quartet of virtuosic string musicians, why not use them!

Of the Ladino songs, Dark Girl, a tumultuous arrangement of an Israeli melody, features tight syncopations from Tice's guitar and Leslie's Mandolin, while Henley's voice and Wickel's violin explores the spaces between notes through dizzying melismas.

Taken from the Turkish tradition of Ladino pieces, the rhythmic melody of Pink Rose meanders through monastic counterpoint and ends with a hallelujah refrain. The gong like guitar strums depict Henley as she is - a disciplined proponent of a sacred culture who may at any moment suffer an ecstatic outburst. ("Canaanite Blues") wraps up the album in grand finale of ululations and celebratory emotions. A modern Israeli song written by Ehud Banai, it speaks of the degradation of tradition as a result of modernized, fast-paced lifestyles. Henley says of the Israeli tradition: "there's a great poetry from that way of life and how people from those places express themselves." Banai's message she says is that, "this poetry is becoming less and less a thing that people in the modern era are aware of."

As a proponent of musical cross-pollination, Henley's fear is that the beauty of her cultural roots will be lost on the ears of her youthful listeners. Authenticity is a tough thing to assert, but pretending a stage is a pulpit, is not her approach. Rather than lecturing her listeners into submission, she throws the weight of her cultural identity out her vocal chords and lets her energy do the talking. And if you want a blow by blow translation of the song she just sang, she says that she'd be happy to see you after the concert.

Jonathan Shifflett is a recent graduate of USC's classical guitar program, who has since seen the light and traded the guitar for a banjo. When not tracking down train car murals or searching for hobo hieroglyphics, he enjoys pretending to play the fiddle and thinking about the folk music world at large.