Signs of Life
That Rondi Charleston is a superb interpreter of everything from Johnny Mercer to Stevie Wonder has been proven time and again over the past dozen years. But her four previous albums have only hinted at what the remarkable Signs of Life fully reveals: that she is a songwriter whose poetic, narrative and compositional skills are comparable to such modern masters as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. Five of the 11 selections here were written or co-written by Charleston, all existential explorations on a grand (perhaps even deistic) scale.
Partnering with composer Dave Stryker (also the album’s musical director and guitarist), Charleston opens with “DNA,” a hypnotic examination of the universal formula that makes us each unique. The title track, for which she crafted both words and music, draws on personal touchstones to measure the weight of shared history. “How the River Flows” and “The Wind Speaks,” both written with Stryker, respectively extol the life forces of water and air. Stryker and his wife, first-time lyricist Tynia Thomassie, contribute “In These Hours,” a transfixing celebration of twilight enchantment.
To complete the playlist, Charleston sagely adds a sweeping assortment of likeminded pearls, extending from Monk’s “Reflections” and Shorter’s “Footprints” to Simon’s magically festive, life-affirming “Spirit Voices.” But the piece de resistance is “The Cave Knows,” co-created by Charleston and Fred Hersch for the award-winning documentary No Place on Earth, a magnificent ode to courage.