February 1999

Nancy Bryan - Lay Me Down

Originally released: 1995
Remaster released: 1997

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]JVC labels Nancy Bryan's music as "eclectic," presumably because she does not comfortably fit into any one genre. This, however, does not give us any notion as to the kind of music she composes and performs. People like to put things into neat little boxes. I suppose this gives us a reference point from which we can relate the new information to our existing mental databases, thus giving it some relativity and helping us determine if it is indeed something of interest to us. As the "eclectic" tag gives us nothing useful to draw from, I will attempt to convey some general characteristics of Nancy Bryan’s musical style.

Her music is poetry set against a musical landscape more than it is music with poetry imposed over top of it. The lyrics are the star attraction here. There are no virtuosic instrumental performances, elongated bridges or super-catchy riffs, nor should there be, as they would be starkly out of place. In an age when lyrics are often trite, Nancy Bryan gives us stunning symbolism, as in "Blood Song," or honest emotional realism. The topics of human frailty and insecurity are not new, but they are delivered to us in a sincere package that builds empathy within us. This effect is achieved not only by what she sings, but equally, or more so, by the way in which she emotes through the use of inflection, intonation and mild vibrato vocal techniques.

The musical form of most of the songs is straight-forward and unburdened. The air is almost always entirely the domain of Nancy Bryan’s immaculately enunciated vocals. Percussion, bass and guitar provide the bulk of the rhythmic structure. Adding tonal color are well-placed accents from more exotic instruments, such as the marimba and concert bass drum. These accents are never overdone or plopped in senselessly, and they serve to enhance the music rather than clutter the theme.

If you enjoy the female voice, as I do, yet have difficulty distinguishing between the many female pop singers that currently abound, then Lay Me Down offers a refreshing respite. It is the type of release that with each listen you learn to appreciate more and more. I have a feeling that long after I’ve forgotten many of today’s pop divas that Lay Me Down will still be getting regular rotation in my listening room. The superb sound (notably the extended dynamic range, which is lacking on many large-scale commercial releases) of the JVC XRCD is an added bonus that allows one to enjoy the music even more.