Psychology and fairy tales. They are the basis for more than one major work, the largest of which might just be The Wizard of Oz and its in-depth look at good witch and bad witch as seen through the eyes of Hollywood. True, the focus was on Dorothy and her henchmen, but the real story lay behind good and evil as portrayed by the witches, was it not? Put it on stage outside of the vision of Michael Jackson and I think it obvious. Truth versus lie. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. Isn't that pretty much what fairy tales are?
Whether Jill Freeman totally buys into that simplistic statement, she does to a degree as she writes in the pamphlet/lyric sheet included with the CD. “The dark world of fairy tales may strike some as an odd subject for an entire album of songs,” she writes. “There was a time I might have agreed. But a few years ago, I happened upon several books that explored the Jungian psychology buried within such tales, and I was suddenly entranced--- passionately--- by the interpretations. Fairy tales--- they are like dreams, filled with deep symbolism about the human psyche. They carry the voice of our unconscious, the part of us that silently, continuously sings the song of our humanity, our being-ness. I found I wanted to dive into those dreamy stories, swim deep, and see what I came back with. And so I did. This CD is the expression of what I found there.”
What she found was not pretty, on the whole. Adventurous, for sure, but not pretty. Which is not to say that it is not pleasant, musically. Indeed, the music and the search for truth are the most pleasant parts of the album. The search... well, the search is a bit unsettling, but only here and there. The music sets the tone and weaves the mood. It is only later, when the song is over, that you begin to think that and it starts to sink in.
There is something going on here that borders on the eerie--- no, in places this is actually eerie--- and while I can't put my finger on it I can feel it. The ghostly “Letters From Murdertown” is the stuff from which dark novels are made and to follow that up with “Welcome To the Bonehouse” is not sequencing but making a statement. This is the Mad Hatter not mind-scattered but mind-blown and presented in carnival-speak with musical accompaniment. The story unfolds on stage, as it must, for this is dramatic in the extreme, the music written for maximum effect. Presented by a troupe of outcasts, not unlike those in the movie 'Freaks,' the story dances around the fringes of the sane with a promise of insanity, never quite stepping over the line but so close you might want it to just to see what would happen.
Credit the troupe their ability to help the story without interference, their involvement there but not in the way. Pushing along the story line. Making statements with instrumental phrasing and pauses and stops and starts and bent notes and everything else at their disposal to set a mood or make a point. Freeman does not really need them as can be attested to by this video, but they help embellish and isn't that part of what theater is all about?
A Handmade Life is not quite like anything I have ever heard before except in snippets and is a perfect companion to an album I enjoy immensely when the mood strikes--- Jon Strongbow's Alien City. As I learned listening to Strongbow, to live within oneself is a journey unto itself.