Birds of the Moon

Miriam Lieberman


4 stars

DISTINGUISHING Sydneysider Miriam Lieberman from a veritable assembly line of local singer-songwriters is the fact she accompanies herself on kora as well as guitar. The 21-string West African harp adds distinctive colouring to her melodious, travel-inspired songs. On Birds of the Moon, her fourth album, Lieberman’s kora works symbiotically with her associates, violinist Lara Goodridge and cellist Kate Adams.

Employing glissandos, her accompanists add subtle Indian flavouring to several tracks, most notably Benta, a traditional Guinean song that Lieberman, who has studied in West Africa, sings in language over a basic kora figure. In Incantation, her unusual instrument sounds closer to that of a Celtic harp. Kora intertwines sublimely with the other strings in the bluesy title track. It lends an apposite Mexican lilt to Butterfly Boy — given that song’s geographic setting — without resorting to pastiche. Adopting a lower vocal register provides a nice contrast to preceding tracks, while the phrasing and tone brings to mind Joni Mitchell. Welcome vocal harmony bookends a poetic paean to the return of summer (Summertime Again): “Like a lover you warm my skin/ Open the window, I breathe you in”. Encased in a catchy African rhythm, Sweet the Rain exudes similar sensuality.

Based on a drum ‘n’ bass groove, Varanasi has a more forbidding lyrical thrust. The combined production and multi-instrumental acumen of Josh Schuberth (Josh Pike, Alex Lloyd, Tim Freedman) adds value to Lieberman’s finest album, one in which her beautiful voice is rightfully front of the mix.

Tony Hillier

Printed Saturday 5th July