Kindness of Strangers
Leni Stern Recordings
Although some unfortunate audiences still don't know it, Leni Stern has over the years distinguished herself as one of the preeminent composers on the modern scene, with an ear for memorable, complex melodic hooks and keen insight to the human condition matched only by her sublime guitar skills. Her latest release, Kindness of Strangers, ventures away from stripped-down, guts-exposed territory in favor of sumptuous orchestral arrangements. Though there's more dressing than usual on pieces like the string-wrapped, reflective "Carry Me," it's always used toward a pointed, purposeful end. In the sweeping love letter "I Call You," for example, the arrangement reflects and emphasizes Stern's awe-struck lyrics "Flowing silk with golden seams/the line between reality and dreams." "Rescue My Heart," a darker journey, featuring Stern's more blues-threaded guitar play, utilizes a suspenseful orchestral pluck to make the turn to the rallying cry "I wanna live." Always bracing her fragile-sounding, weathered vocals with a unique lyric perspective, Stern offers a tender, role-exploring look at the relationship between the homeless and people who take the time to care on the album's title track, singing "I'd like to be by your side/and find out how your smile's so sweet, so kind/in spite of everything." The album's emotional centerpiece, however, is the 18-minute suite "Vedo Il Tuo Viso (I See Your Face)," a piece commissioned for a festival remembering a train station bombing that took 85 lives in Bologna, Italy. This ultimately uplifting piece explores deeply, with meaning, shades of darkness and light, culling comfort from sorrow ("Underneath my rage and sorrow/I feel blessed that you're alive") and underscoring the power of a truly healing composition.