Nothing in life, we are told, has any business being perfect. Maddy Prior clearly understands this lesson, otherwise she wouldn’t have marred an otherwise near-perfect CD with an oddball cover of Todd Rundgren’s a capella moaner “Honest Work.”
That being said, however, Flesh & Blood is one of the finest CDs I’ve heard in years. Prior’s voice, always angelic, has never sounded better; and, with the able help of Nick Holland and Troy Donockley, she has picked material that does her vocal talents justice. Indeed, the collection is so captivating that I’ve had to take it out of my work rotation; after all, I don’t get paid to stand around and gawk dreamily to music.
The disc itself has two major sections, the first of which is untitled and contains a rather motley collection of songs. The second, which contains eight tracks (including standouts like “Cruel Mother” and “Boy on a Horse”) is called “Dramatis Personae” and, according to Prior, revolves around questions of identity. Of the two, the latter is stronger, both musically and thematically. The former, despite a marvelous version of “Sheath and Knife” to lead things off, suffers from a bit of a jerky quality, and the Rundgren cover doesn’t help. Thankfully, the disc does get stronger as it goes along, going from “very good” to “remarkable” in the space of a few tracks.
What lifts Flesh & Blood from the ranks of the good into the hallowed space reserved for great music, however, is the CD’s last song, a cover of Rick Kemp’s “Heart of Stone.” Rather than indulge in superlatives, I’ll simply say that in listening for the first time, I didn’t want the song to end; and, in listening for the second, I resolved to start the disc over. If that’s not a recommendation to hurry out and run — not walk — to get this disc, I don’t know what is.
(Park Records, 1997)