Few artists personify their city the way that Regina Spektor does New York. The Russian-born singer-songwriter-pianist was raised in the Bronx and has accomplished what I’m guessing is a rare New York trifecta – performing on Broadway, selling out Carnegie Hall and playing Saturday Night Live. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio even declared a Regina Spektor day in 2019. But even as Spektor moved only slightly up the Hudson to Dreamland Studios to record her latest album, Home, before and after takes the listener far away from the crowded city to a place only to be accessed via Spektor’s exploratory lyrics and rich musical mind.
Home, before and after begins with a fanciful conversation with God (in a bar). “Becoming All Alone,” riding on Spektor’s insistent piano line, asks questions we might all want the answers to – “Why doesn’t it get better with time/I’m becoming all along again” – and, on a larger scale, why aren’t folks getting the help they need – “Let the ones who want it bad/Get all the things that make them better.” The record’s second single, “Up The Mountain,” combines dramatic piano and horns with a vigorous beat and lyrics that slowly unspool at first before recoiling and springing forward with an urgency – “Like it or not, I’m coming up the mountain/Hurry, hurry”
While a hazy sense of foreboding hovers over much of Home, before and after, other spots announce their darkness with absolute clarity. “SugarMan” describes what happens when love and sweetness are swapped out with something much less nourishing – “Sugar rot your teeth/It’ll make you too high/But there’s not a lot/Sugar can’t buy.” That sweetness, though, can snap – “But one of these days/Love will turn to hate/And I’ll bite the hand/That feeds me cakes.”
The album’s centerpiece, the aptly-named “Spacetime Fairytale,” is a show-stopper of a tune stuffed with musical surges and emotional waves. Strings, woodwinds, percussion and even tap-dancing (courtesy of fellow New Yorker Caleb Teicher) ebb and flow as Spektor describes a kind of reverse writer’s block – “My mind is full of melodies/They search for homes inside of me/Like begging, pleading refugees/But I can’t find the time” – where too much music keeps her from finding the songs she wants to write. She keeps chasing – “The pages they may burn/But words can just return” – through musical movements both threatening and playful. Interestingly, producer John Congleton, as a function of the pandemic, largely produced remotely, making the seamlessness and urgency of the music even more remarkable.
While “Spacetime Fairytale” is a musical journey, the scaled-down “Through a Door” finds Spektor approaching something resembling home. The way there is not quite what she remembers – “The world had changed a little bit/A tiny tear, a tiny rip” – but it’s what she needs – “Home is where the light’s on/No matter how long you’ve been gone.” For Spektor, that home, both before and after the mess we’ve all survived, is creating music.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Spacetime Fairytale” – I’m admittedly not a tap-dancing guy, but it absolutely works in Spektor’s eight-minute mini-drama.
Home, before and after was produced and mixed by John Congleton (co-produced by Regina Spektor), engineered by Congleton and Ariel Shafir and mastered by John Davis. All songs were written by Spektor. The Skopje Studio Orchestra was conducted by Oleg Kondratenko. Additional musicians on the album include Congleton (synths, bass, drum programming, percussion, string/horn arrangement, guitar, drums, vibraphone, marimba, theremin, keyboard), Joey Waronker (drums, percussion), Luke Reynolds (bass, guitar, acoustic guitar, synths), Jack Dishel (vocals), Jherek Bischoff (string/horn arrangements) and Caleb Teicher (tap dance percussion)
Go here to order Home, before and after (out June 24): https://thecbpstore.com/collections/regina-spektor/products/home-before-and-after-cd
Check out tour dates here: https://reginaspektor.com/tour