Evolving from family tragedy this duo used their collective courage to sing these eleven poignant songs to work through their sadness. Much the same as the album released several years ago by the former Cindy Bullens – a veteran back-up singer-guitarist from Elton John’s band – on her marvelous “Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth.” Ms. Bullen's collection was written specifically with the sad and tragic passing of her 11-year old daughter from cancer. Songs like the stunning “As Long As You Love – Scarlet Wings,” sung with Cindy’s surviving daughter, and “In Better Hands,” “Better Than I’ve Ever Been,” and “The Right Kind of Goodbye” (from “Neverland” – a continuation of the previous lp) -- were absolutely riveting.
Cindy was assisted with artists such as Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Bryan Adams, Rodney Crowell, Beth Nielsen-Chapman and the Kennedy’s Mary Ann with Bill Lloyd. This new collection by The Promise Is Hope, without the star-studded support, is equally riveting with some songs specifically written in loving memory of real people, hits the same chords as Cindy’s brilliant dedication to her late daughter. While the death of loved ones is a sad subject -- a listener should not approach the album as dour, melancholy or a downer. It isn't. It's uplifting.
Ashley and Eric L'Esperance – known artistically as The Promise Is Hope – lost four family members in a two-year period. This is their dedication -- the best way they know how to express it short of a memorized prayer. The album “Every Seed Must Die,” is beyond mere inspiration – it’s born from reality, conscience, and soul-searching.
The first two tracks are moving, but the second -- “Brother,” is a small dynamic piece. Spare instrumentation with a potent Ashley lead vocal and reliable soulful backing by Eric. The musicianship sparkles with Daniel Zambrano on cello, Ashley on piano and Eric on guitars. This is a very moving piece and if you had a brother or someone who could've been a "brother," and lost him -- and don’t mind crying – this is a must hear.
Eric takes the lead vocal on “Home,” and Daniel’s cello warms the melody under the acoustic guitars. Ashley’s vocals on “Brother,” and Eric’s “Home,” are so poignant, subtle and all-encompassing. You don’t know them personally but their voices will get into the pores of your skin and down into the marrow. This is simple, well-played material but loaded with emotion. The songs are all well-crafted. Together, their voices have a special eloquence. Heavy metal is heavy in a brash manner, and yet Eric and Ashley accomplished the same thing with the weight of their musical endeavor and tenderness on all the right notes and strings.
Ashley’s “Lost & Found,” is sung with the delicacy of the late Mimi Farina (Richard & Mimi Farina) from the 60’s. Mimi is the younger sister of folk legend Joan Baez (and Mimi always possessed a far more angelic and polished voice than Joan herself). “Lost & Found,” simply put -- is beautiful. The lilting piano notes and her near-Sandy Denny vocal benevolence is stirring. From here Ashley segues into an acapella “Always-1” (which continues to #2 later in the collection). This kind of singing is more appreciated in the old countries – England, Scotland Ireland and deep in our own Appalachia. A singer can enthrall her private audience with this vocal. Allow Ashley to enthrall you.
Singing in unison Eric and Ashley act more as a folk-duo and they are quite effective on “Every Seed Must Die.” Joan Baez should set aside her politics and activism for a while and take up a powerful, lovely song such as this. For many of us, we can see the exit sign above eternity’s door a little clearer each year – and this is such a marvelous song that doesn’t necessarily commemorate death – but a life. Well arranged and performed.
Ashley returns to the lead with “Mary Ann,” and it outlines what happens when the phone stops to ring. Daniel returns with an anchoring cello below the acoustic guitars and despite the spare instrumentation, it’s full and solid. This is another heart-tugging melody and so far the entire album is threaded with respectful reminisces of those who have passed. But, it’s not too melancholy, depressing or dark. There is a rejoicing in their plaintive voices and how the melodies are performed. It’s more of a celebration of the people’s lives they sing about.
In the tradition of the great Canadian sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle – Ashley sings in French with the piano and cello on “Je Vous Salue, Marie.” (“I Salute You, Marie”). The strains of the violin carry the lullaby-like melody and there is no need to understand French to feel what is being sung emotionally and effectively on this track. Wonderful guitar picking featuring Eric and mellotron by Chris Hoisington comes with “Grateful,” and when Ashley sings, it once again becomes a special conjoining of voices.
The songwriting on this album is exceptional and the messages are far more uplifting than dour. If this was to be some kind of therapy I think they succeeded. I come away from many of these cleansed as I did when I listened to Cindy Bullens’ album dedicated to her late daughter. Music has the same effect on us that a rushing stream of water has over stones. It will smooth and polish with time.
Recorded in a manner that places Ashley’s voice in front of you, or with headphones, deep and comforting into your conscience – “Lullaby,” opens with piano and Ashley. Ashley's voice becomes the rushing water in the stream and her song polishes any troubled listeners. If you are grieving – this could be the private moment that could take your hand and no one has to know.
The melody of this L’Esperance song has the strength that Cindy Bullens’ powerful and moving songs on her memorial album carried and musically resurrected many -- a lullaby for all who have lost someone and do not know how to accept it...yet. Start here with a stranger’s voice – let it be Ashley and Eric L’Esperance’s – for she and Eric have been there.
This 36-minute soul cleansing was produced admirably by accompanying musician Chris Hoisington and Eric L’Esperance and was recorded in Batavia, New York. The CD is a beautiful 4-panel fold out designed by Eric L’Esperance & photography by Tommy Vo. Bandcamp features all the studio versions of these songs.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / July 2018