Lenka Lichtenberg - Open The Gate - Break Down The Walls
Singer-songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg's second album, Open The Gate, was released on Sunflower Records in 2003 and is a collection of original songs by Lenka Lichtenberg.
As with Ms. Lichtenberg's debut album Deep Inside, the quality of the arrangements on Open The Gate is very high indeed, blending contemporary singer-songwriter and traditional Yiddish/klezmer idioms but here also with substantial doses of Progressive Bluegrass/Newgrass, even in the generally quite delightful instrumentations. Combine this again with Lenka Lichtenberg's pleasant and eminently listenable voice and the deep and heart-felt conviction of her interpretations, and once again you have the makings of an overall very listenable and enjoyable album.
But again, as with the originals on the previous Deep Inside, while there are some good solid tunes and the arrangements would generally be hard to fault on Lenka Lichtenberg's Open The Gate, some of the material has a somewhat derivative feel and sometimes tends to touch on the slightly saccharine. As regards derivativeness, this becomes particularly evident on some tracks that are more than a little reminiscent in feel of Bela Fleck, right down to the banjitar, most notably on Open The Gate/Ouvre La Porte, Zol Zayn and MP3. While there isn't necessarily anything wrong with incorporating elements of somebody else's style per se, when this becomes dominant, it degrades into derivativeness. All the same, in spite of this these songs are not without charm and would be very hard to actually dislike. One or two of the songs are sadly sufficiently bland/saccharine to could have come straight out of a Eurovision Song Contest final - you'll know them when you hear them. Still, there are enough good tunes on Open The Gate to keep interest alive and keep the album enjoyable. What really does let this album down though - again, as with Ms. Lichtenberg's originals on Deep Inside - are the still weak English lyrics I feel. Call me old-fashioned by all means, but in my book, lyrics still should be coherent and devoid of inept metaphors ("Soaring like a rhapsody?" Sorry, I really don't think so.) For the most part, the English lyrics just don't hang together for me and strike me as if they were poor translations from another language, as if somebody were translating colloquialisms literally perhaps instead of interpreting them through equivalence of meaning. Also, the sentiments expressed in MP3 are hardly going to win many friends among the listening public; Ms. Lichtenberg seems to fall into the unfortunate trap of singing the "major labels'" propaganda anthem that somehow MP3, the hugely popular compressed digital audio format, or rather the public who use it are ripping off artists like herself when the reality is, yes the major labels may or may not lose the odd sale - a drop in the ocean, given their obscene profits none of which are ever used to foster real new talent anyway - but the real threat is that MP3 at the least has the potential to render major record labels totally obsolete by providing artists with an affordable and easy means of self-distribution. MP3 empowers both artist and consumer, and vast numbers of the former have reached vastly wider audiences than they possibly could have otherwise and generated income that they otherwise would have missed out on. (Accepted, this is over-simplifying the issue somewhat, but in essence this is pretty much what it really boils down to.)
Yet, when all is said and done, Lenka Lichtenberg's songs on Open The Gate do come from the heart and it would be very difficult to miss this and the depth and sincerity of the feeling and conviction with which they are presented. As with the originals on her debut album, the spirit and generally noble sentiments of the lyrics are discernible. The "message" is all there, you just have to look a bit harder to see it clearly.
The liner of Lenka Lichtenberg's Open The Gate provides full lyrics for each song. The cover unfortunately comes across as slightly on the corny side, mainly on account of its clumsy execution. The idea is sound enough even if perhaps a touch clichéd. Where it falls apart is, the scales of the two joined photographs don't match, nor do the perspectives, and the join looks amateurish. But never judge a book, nor indeed an album, by its cover.
Overall, in spite of the somewhat weak lyrics, I still recommend Lenka Lichtenberg's Open The Gate as an enjoyable listen. It would be very difficult somehow to not like this album, warts and all. Ms. Lichtenberg is certainly an excellent singer, and I feel confident that her material will in time be as polished in terms of lyrical, verbal presentation as it already is in terms of depth of feeling, sincerity and conviction as well as overall musical presentation.
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