Listen carefully and enjoy, and drink it all in deeply . . . But not too deeply . . . .
Artist: Tara-Leigh Cobble
Times: 41:55 minutes / 11 tracks
It is fitting to present this review of Tara-Leigh Cobble's latest project, Morning's War, during the holiday season (don’t skip to the end yet, please!). From the very first notes and lyrics upon the first play, I was totally awestruck in a "wow" factor of intricate layers of sound carefully unfolding in the first track, "Burn." TLC's voice is the most crisp and clear I've ever heard. Cobble's lyrical performance is so excellent, it was immediately apparent to me that these songs were written in the midst of angst. I immediately consulted Larry Stephan's October 2011 interview with Tara-Leigh Cobble to learn what Morning's War is all about.
"My seventh album, Morning's War, is the hardest one I've ever written. I wrote it about the time when my heart was broken and when God disappeared (or so it seemed). I wrote much of the album with the man who broke my heart. That was a new experience. We were writing songs about our relationship, how everything went terribly wrong. That's when I realized that I'm not one of those artists for whom making art is therapeutic. I don't finish and feel better. I finish and feel smarter--like I understand the situation more thoroughly."
It is extremely important to keep this answer to my query into account when listening to Morning's War, which works with a tonality that tracks from when things went wrong ("Look What You've Done" and "You Spoke Too Soon") to calls for God's help ("Act 3, Scene 4" and ""What Do I Know?") to what seems to be downright depression ("That Night" and "Every Man for Himself") to redemption ("Copernicus"). Thematically, Cobble makes this project a concept album, with each piece of an otherwise puzzle flowing evenly and smoothly.
I grew too close to this project while reviewing it. I separated myself from a family member and experienced the separation and divorce of a couple very close to me. Keep, also, in mind that Cobble came out of her situation not feeling better but smarter. Morning's War served as a soundtrack and life event as I knew what to do and say in my events. What TLC conveys very well is that in the midst of difficulties in life, when we seem to "lose" God, He is always there for us (the resounding lyric of "Act 3, Scene 4" is "I will always believe in you") and the musical serenity of "Faithful Still" mirrors some of the Psalms in which in the midst of adversity, "hell with not prevail" throughout the question "how much longer 'til it ends?" (both from "Faithful Still").
While Morning's War is not therapeutic for TLC, unfortunately, it also translates to the listener. I was exhausted by the time "Every Man for Himself," the next-to-the-last track, rolled around, including the lyrics "No one would watch this film / where redemption never comes / and the garden is lost to the darkness / and the lover dies unloved . . . " Suddenly, the beautiful, redemptive frontispiece, "Copernicus," points to the fact that the speaker is the center of the universe (we're the cause of our own grief) and triumphantly call, "Come, Lord Jesus." At the climax and denouement of the album, I don't feel "rescued" by Jesus but feel more like I'm falling into His arms. Will He catch me? Perhaps this thought is exactly what TLC intends. I feel like I’ve fallen hard--very hard--into a safety net.
The best and brightest moments of Morning's War is that this project is Tara-Leigh Cobble's most polished and perfectly-presented music work to date. Her singing voice is perfection, as there is not one single lyric that the listener will need to go her website to research; she deserves five Tocks for this feat alone! TLC goes past the next production level from Playing Favorites (see Shawn Dickinson's November 2011 review), as the "wow" factor begins with the layers of sound in "Burn" to an intense duet ("Look What You've Done," with Kaleb White) to a Gospel chorus in "Piñata" to introspective and reflective conversations with God in acoustic guitar and voice ("Every Man for Himself"). The full-out rock and roll "Copernicus" would make a really good air-play song (although some wags may nit-pick that the guitar solo sounds “so ’80s”--doesn’t bother me one bit).
The bottom line for Morning's War is to listen carefully and enjoy. If listening during the Advent or Christmas holiday season, remember, this time is one that some folks may feel lonely. Drink in all in deeply. . . but not too deeply. We've all been through these pitfalls, and we do know that redemption always comes!
Olin Jenkins November 24, 2011