From the drifting “Laurel,” a song of escape and reverie, through the keyboard-driven sway of “Hooray Hoorah” 11 songs later, Hana Zara has crafted a lovely gem in “Where Amanda Is King.”
The third album from Zara finds her working outside the me-and-my-guitar folk conventions usually associated with the label “singer/songwriter” as she and co-producer Sam Morris incorporate saxophone, piano, violin, a toy Casio and harmonies from Sarah Kornbluh into the enveloping mix.
That creates variety and lushness into which Zara places her breathy evocative vocals, telling well-crafted episodic stories and making wise observations.
That’s particularly true of “The Toy,” an examination of a self-absorbed boy who starts out with a toy and years later ends up with sadness that’s touching and beautiful with all kinds of instruments played by Jack Rodenberg and Casey Hollingsworth.
“The Toy” is followed by the sweet, bubbling “Snow,” a song of remembrance of love. Other highlights include “Hartford,” the most traditional singer-songwriterish presentation, a gentle acoustic-rooted take on Americana, and “The Sower,” which initially brings to mind Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys on Mopeds,” then incorporates violin as it recounts an empty sea-side city.
"Womb of Amanda," the album’s shortest song at just over 2 minutes, is a stately harmony-drenched appreciation of the ties between family with Kornbluh and Zara’s voices beautifully entwined.
Morris’s production and mix gives the songs depth and perfect balance, opening up the beautiful “Where Amanda Is King” for rewarding, repeat listens. Grade: A