Brant Lyon and Friends
Beauty Keeps Laying Its Sharp Knife Against Me
Music and Spoken Word CD by Brant Lyon with E.J. Antonio, Farid Bitar, Anne Cammon, Diana Gitesha Hernandez, Hawley Hussey, Frank Simone, and Robin Small-McCarthy
Logochrysalis Productions 2008; $12
by JoAnne McFarland
In Brant Lyon's compilation of musically-infused poems, Beauty Keeps Laying Its Sharp Knife Against Me, home is as ephemeral as the beauty of a rose. In fact, the rose featured on the cover of the CD, encircled by doll arms, appears worn from the searching of so many nomads, the weight of so much blood and honey, sweat and rain.
The disk contains thirteen tracks whose music is composed and performed (with the exception of "India Songs," which are composed and performed by Rob Voisey) by Mr. Lyon.
We begin in Coney Island with Hawley Hussey's "Coney Island Break-Up Letters." Immediately we're engulfed by the fantastical world of the famous park, its kaleidoscopic colors and beach life, lovers distorted by the fun house mirror. We hear seagulls, dripping water, all the hurly-burly of the carnival, tightly spliced with Hussey's woman-of-the-world drawl, the husky tide of one who has learned, the hard way, the price of falling for the come on.
Next, Frank Simone's "Lin Qua Mai" leads us deep into the lush, rain-drenched jungles of Cambodia. Monkeys warn of chaos even as the bells of the temple reverberate, their sonorous echoing potent as a drug. Simone's august, hypnotic delivery allows the mind to spiral in on itself, become one with the Buddhist monks who worship in the temple.
"Raw Lips Melao" by Diana Gitesha Hernandez serves almost as an interlude. Her upbeat vocals, their throaty tease, pulsate into Lyon's taut "Bab El Bahr." Here, against a Middle Eastern backdrop (Turkey? Iran?) we hear the muezzin's call to prayer. Doves 'startle from rooftops,' 'swarm like locusts,' an old man sews in the gathering darkness while his grandson wanders through a city steeped in rage and despair. Lyon's voice, similar in timbre and intention to Simone's, makes this narrative moment sharply political.
In E.J. Antonio's "Bird Frying" and "When Her Bluesman Comes to Town" we travel West, to a southern American kitchen, a blue woman's bedroom, where her feverish heart hungers for her man's 'sizzling thighs.' Antonio's virtuoso, full-bodied renditions spar with Lyon's breezy keyboard to form syncopated portraits of stalled passion.
"Sand Niggah from Palestine," written by Farid Bitar, and performed by Lyon, Hernandez, and Bitar takes us into the heart of our journey, Palestine and Israel with their never-ending streams of bloodshed and casualties. The political thrust of the CD is ramped up here, the three voices interweaving, mimicking the kinship between factions, disparate viewpoints, even as they destroy each other — 'Why can't we just talk?'
We extend our stay in the East with Anne Cammon's "India Songs." In these spartan, acoustic meditations each gesture happens in its own envelope of light, each word falls on the air like a drop of honey or rain. Strands of words erupt from Cammon's throat like 'leaves on branches that appeared dead,' creating strikingly cinematic pieces that harken back to Simone's "Lin Qua Mai."
Robin Small McCarthy's rallying "Children of the African Diaspora" embraces all the places we've been so far — 'Dance! dance! rise above this man-made world!' McCarthy's cut-glass voice, coupled with Lyon's fluid keyboard and tambourine, elicits the galaxy in all its incandescence, ceding, almost reluctantly to the star-like, pure notes of the title track, "Beauty Keeps Laying Its Sharp Knife Against Me." In "O! Jericho" we return to the holy lands of "Bab El Bahr," careening 'downhill into the valley' of our own souls. "A Bass or Two," Diana Gitesha Hernandez's lushest offering, follows with its bilingual drumbeat, its sangre fuerte.
In "El Taurino," the penultimate track, we hunt the youth we can never reclaim, no matter how fiercely we hunger for it/him, though we 'woo with our saddest song.' Here, Lyon shows us our squandered vitality, the bruised lust that percolates beneath our yearning for community, harmony, oneness.
Beauty Keeps Laying Its Sharp Knife Against Me closes (or is beginning another journey?) with "Summoning the Spirits," a light-handed instrumental sketch of revival and salvation.
JoAnne McFarland is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of six poetry collections including Fossil Fuel and The Glassblower's Tale. Her artwork is part of The Library of Congress and the Columbus Museum of Art collections, as well as many others, public and private.