A broad emotional palette, capable of expressing tenderness and acceptance and disarming openheartedness, undergird this winning disc, a front runner, already before spring arrives, for this year’s Northwest best album of the year. Throughout, one has the sense, so rare, that Rochelle House is a vocalist who understands, in a deep, lived sense, what she is singing about, and has the talents and tools to express it.
This is so whether she sings about love in romance, friendship, or parenthood. The last, so easy to botch but here perfectly poised, features in her song, the wrenching “Come on Boy Put Your Shoes On,” about a father and son’s fateful walk to the corner store, and in her own composition, “Every Child Born” (“has come to save the world…”), to which Paul Rucker contributes his highly effective cello.
Romance of a nuanced, bare-souled variety emerges from the Eugene McDaniels song “Feel Like Making Love,” which Roberta Flack made a huge hit, and from Bronislaw Kaper and Paul Francis Webster’s enigmatic “Invitation” (“wherever I go, you’re the glow of temptation”) which House radiantly delivers.
Another current through the album is a sense of quest–of determination to persist, when deliverance might be a lot to ask for. So, on the original “Cold World,” House sings: “It’s a cold, cold world, when you’re alone and you’re a girl, but I just keep on, keep on walking because I believe I’m heading home.” Four of the nine compositions are originals, while the remainder of the selections really are selections: chosen for their sympathetic reinforcement of the album’s moods and pacing, as well as House’s own singular expressive talents.
She begins the album with Randy California’s “Nature’s Way,” situating herself, before statements of a more affective nature, in a broader context of concern with the intersections of the ecological and the personal. The stellar trumpeter, Cuong Vu, appears on this and the following selection, and helps get the proceedings going on a sure-footed path. That, in any case, is guaranteed by a sterling lineup
of Marc Seales on keyboards, as always strikingly attentive and sympathetic; D’Vonne Lewis, on drums; and Evan Flory-Barnes, on bass–the three musicians who have become House’s most frequent fellow travelers.
House’s debut disc Dreams of Love earned her a nomination for Earshot’s Golden Ear awards, in the vocalist of the year category. She demonstrates on Water that her debut was no fluke. That is nowhere so apparent as on the album’s last track. House ends with a slow rendition of Cat Stevens’s enigmatic song of resignation to love and life, and their richening disappointments, “If I Laugh.” House’s interpretation, by capturing the simply stated but complex emotional statement of the song, also should remind listeners of Stevens’s brilliance as lyricist and composer. And her own growing accomplishment.