RICH IN TEXTURE AND SPIRIT
J. Gambino | 01/27/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The warmth and comfort that is conveyed from this collection of songs reflects the talents, sophistication and spirit of the performers. This is a real tight group where the individuals work in what appears, an effortless fashion, to create a wonderful effect on each of the songs. The arrangements are varied through the creative use of a few instruments as well as interesting harmonies. The songs display the mature songwriting talents of the accomplished members. There are no exceptional individual standouts because the entire collection is that strong. Through the course of listening to this music I frequently find myself smiling; a habit that has become almost lost to me over the years. I think mature music fans will appreciate this collection and reach for it often when they need to refresh their optimism in the human spirit."
These Refugees Should Be Granted Musical Asylum On Your Ster
Jef Fazekas | Newport Beach, California United States | 02/13/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a fan of both Cindy Bullens and Wendy Waldman for over 30 years, I could never understand why neither of these women were able to break through to the top level of super-stardom. Both consummate singer/songwriters, they have it all....great lyrics, smart arrangements, stunning vocals. I guess some things just aren't meant to be...or meant to be understood.
This could all change, though, with UNBOUND, their debut release with their new group, The Refugees. Along with Deborah Holland, the pair have formed a sort of distaff CSN, and the results are magical. We're talking A game across the board...lyrics, harmonies, instrumentation, production, the works!
Things start strongly with the lilting title track. A rollicking slice of bluegrass heaven, the arrangement is crisp and clean, each instrument shining in it's own light, cushioning the others in a warm and well-blended embrace. The vocals are just as strong, with each of the ladies taking lead on a verse, only to come together in perfect unison on the chorus. THIS is what real singing's all about!
Next up is "Jellico Highway." Still full of the pain and hurt that graced the original version (on Bullens' 2005 DREAM #29), the arrangement's been fleshed out a bit more, making everything a little more full-bodied. The swirling, angelic backing vocals also add a pinch of something extra, sort of along the lines of the Eagles at their best. Very nice.
The added vocal prowess also bolsters the re-recording of Waldman's "Fishin' In The Dark" (taken from 2006's excellent MY TIME IN THE DESERT). The track has an earthier, more sensual vibe this time around, but there's also a more playful element, creating a groove that is undeniable. One of a number of tracks here that radio would be wise to jump on!
Not knowing Holland as well as her two bandmates, I wasn't quite sure what she would bring to the group, but the reworking of her hit (with Animal Logic) "(There's A) Spy In The House Of Love" is lovely. Picture an Emmylou Harris/June Carter Cash feel, all earnest and steely and REAL, and you have this cut. Vocally, one of UNBOUND's most stunning moments.
"You Plant Your Fields" (also from MY TIME...) is probably the cut closest to it's original version, with some additional mandolin and backing vocals tacked on, but it's the lyrics that hit you here... from the opening lines of "My father said/Some things you learn/By only doing/When it comes your turn", this is Wendy Waldman at her most poetic.
Next up is UNBOUND's second new cut, the rockin' "Stickin' With My Baby's Love." All bluesy, hot and heavy, this song is fun from start to finish. My favorite part? Bullens' lines "I might strut/Show some skin/If there's a little game going, babe/Count me in/And if by chance/I brush your arm, yeah/Well, now, it's nothing personal/I don't mean no harm." This is a sound the Refugees HAVE to continue to explore on any and all future releases! My absolute favorite cut!
It would be tough to top the original version of "I Gotta Believe In Something" from Bullens' 1999 classic SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH", but the group gives it a helluva shot! All acoustic guitar, harmonica and picture perfect harmonies, this achingly beautiful ode to hanging on and moving forward is songwriting at it's best. Thank you, Cindy, for this masterpiece!
Next we have Holland's "The Violin Song", which, I'm sad to say, is the disc's only real klunker. I'm all for a dose of humor every once in a while ~ it's one of the things I love about, say, John Hiatt or Aimee Mann! ~ but this song's just trying too hard. Consequently, it's all just a tad bit too....precious and calculated.
Things rebound 110% with our third new cut, the Bullens/Waldman-penned "All My Angels." There's such power in the track's simplicity....the instrumentation is minimal, the vocals up front and strong (I particularly like Waldman's little Rickie Lee Jones-esque tag at the end!). In a just world, this track would be well on it's way to being an across the board, multi-format smash.
Bullens' "Box Of Broken Hearts" (also from DREAM #29) also benefits from the added vocal punch. Bullens' lead vocal is stellar, but it's Waldman's and Holland's backing vocals, snaking in and out of both the choruses and verses, that add an extra kick. Proof positive that these women were meant to sing together!
The album closes with a new song and a classic. "On My Way" has a nice, airy folk feel to it. Holland's lead vocal is sweet and assured, with backing harmonies that both support and enhance. Toss in clever lyrics and you have a real winner. Yet another cut that hints at the good things yet to come from the Refugees!
And then there's "Save The Best For Last." Though Waldman co-wrote this mega-gem, most people identify it as a Vanessa Williams hit. So how to make it their own? By stripping it down and essentially doing it a cappella. Bullens', Holland's and Waldman's voices blend beautifully, adding a whole other dimension to this timeless tune. Already a classic, this version could help the song find a whole new audiance. It certainly deserves it.
So...where do the Refugees go from here? Busy solo careers and personal lives not withstanding, we can only hope this isn't a one-shot deal. I would love to see the band concentrate on more new original material (though Bullens' "Sensible Shoes" and "Water On The Moon" and Waldman's "The Renegade Side", "Takin' Stitches Out" and "The Lucky One" seem like naturals to redo!), making this more of a BAND, versus three solo acts that've united, albeit brilliantly. Until then, free yourself...and be UNBOUND! (As with all my reviews, I am docking the disc half a star for not including the lyrics)."
Lee Armstrong | Winterville, NC United States | 04/25/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Rufugees is a delightful project bringing three strong solo performers to a united voice. Wendy Waldman produced the disc along with Deborah Holland & Cindy Bullens. Their vocal blend is seamless, each giving their best. My two favorites include Cindy Bullens' "Jellico Highway" with its chords creating a tale of regret and suspense, "Somewhere in eastern Kentucky with a whole lot of time left to kill, I decided to get off the interstate, drive up on into the hills." "I like to flirt, I like to tease, I like to bring those boys right to their knees," begins the delightful "Stickin' With My Baby's Love." Deborah Holland's "(There's A) Spy in the House of Love" is a bittersweet ballad with Waldman-Bullens harmonies painting a tight sonic background. Deborah Holland's sense of humor that was front & center in her CD Bad Girl Once... brings out smiles as her child doesn't want to practice "The Violin." Wendy sings on "All My Angels," a tender tearjerker. Wendy Waldman's "Save the Best for Last" that was on her "My Time in the Desert" CD closes the set. There's not a weak moment on the disc. The music is acoustic and tugs on the emotions. The disc is on "Wabuho" Records that sounds like Waldman-Bullens-Holland. Enjoy!"