Music is beautiful in its diversity because there is an audience for everything. Sometimes that music is playing only for an audience of one, but nonetheless, there are people on the other side of the speakers that are hinged on every note played and lyric sung. This thought crossed my mind while listening to Miranda Lee Richards’ new album “Echoes of the Dreamtime” and wondering who comprises her audience.
Though the name Miranda Lee Richards does not ring a bell for most, Richards actually has had a fairly successful and long music career. She certainly started out on the right foot by getting guitar lessons from Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist in Metallica, after she had graduated from the San Francisco School of the Arts. Early demos led to her singing with The Brian Jonestown Massacre on some of the band’s earlier albums such as “Give It Back” and “Bringing It All Back Home Again” before she released her solo debut in 2001 “Herethereafter,” its single “The Long Goodbye” finding success in Japan. She followed that album up with 2009’s “Light of X.”
On her newest album, Richards takes a very literary approach to her music. The songs read like eight poems and epics cobbled together from entries in Richards’ diary. They are earnest musings about hope, love and past misgivings that will strike a chord with listeners. “You had been searching for fossils in the canyons/ The caves’ companion to the boys playing in the sun/Before the beast arrives it gives me fair warning/ It announced it was coming, but I chose not to run,” sings Richards on “Tokyo’s Dancing” as it blissfully strums along to a soft, country rhythm, her voice having a hint of nostalgia and growth in it.
“Julian” might be the finest example of her intimate songwriting, a six-minute testimony of the disintegration of trust and companionship in a relationship. The music is a meditative loop of gentle percussion, sitar, violin, flute and guitar that allows you to settle into the song’s space. The ease of the music belies the deep emotional impact Richards seems to be wrestling with, as she forlornly sings, “So please don’t touch without permission/ What you are considering is very rare and priceless/ I see you as a child who has needs/ It’s so easy to forgive you/ But it’s always me, me, me.” To counteract the sweet music with the bitter content is a nice songwriting touch from Richards and gives complexity to her art.
The literary style of the album means it can be a very dense listen. Richards takes her time in fleshing out her stories and the songs usually top five minutes and string together five, six, seven verses. It is an album that is not going to coast by and will take more than a few listens to understand its scope. That is an OK proposition on songs like “First Light of Winter,” which has a dark, ominous air to it like a Edgar Allen Poe short story, finely sung over stirring reverb with Richards’ chilled voice.
However, the vibe on most songs strike a similar tempo and style. They all have a fragile nature to them that keeps the listener at arm’s length away, as if you can look but not touch the songs, and Richards does not do enough with adding interesting musical ideas to a pretty standard singer-songwriter style of strummed guitar and easy grooves. The most egregious example on the album is closer “Already Fine,” where Richards basically repeats “You we’re already fine” 16 times in five minutes over a comatose guitar and violin melody.
“Echoes of the Dreamtime” is a pretty album in both lyrics and music. Richards knows what her vision is and executes well. It just isn’t an album that I could really get behind despite its artistry and that just comes down to a matter of taste. Her songwriting is so literary that it kind of comes down to whether or not you want to listen to Richards’ story. Some listeners are going to curl up on the couch with this on the stereo and dive right into it. Others, like me, are going to see it on the shelf, acknowledge the artistry it takes to create, and move along to find another story.
- Miranda Lee Richards
“Echoes of the Dreamtime”
Release: Jan. 29, 2016
Notable Tracks: “Julian,” “Tokyo’s Dancing”