Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Album Review: Leyla McCalla - Breaking The Thermometer

Leyla McCalla
Breaking The Thermometer
***and1/2 out of *****

The companion album to Leyla McCalla's Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever, muli-disciplinary music, dance and theatre work developed with collaborator Kiyoko McCrae, the Breaking The Thermometer record is a tribute to Radio Haiti and McCalla's personal journey as well as others Haitian memories and connections to that country.

The album opens with percussion and McCalla talking about her personal trip to Haiti to visit relatives on "Nan Fon Bwa" before her powerful cello work enters the scene. "Fort Dimanche" uses banjo and percussion as well as others memories of the country while "Bon Appétit Messieurs" is an old Radio Haiti broadcast which leads directly into the banjo and skittering beats of "Le Bal est Fini" which is a dynamic combination of styles and a major highlight on the album. 

Vocally McCalla sings with passion on "Dan Reken" and delicately on "Pouki" (which also features Melissa Laveaux) as McCalla's singing is dynamite throughout the album.  The dance ready percussion and vibrating strings resonate on "Dodinin" while the personal stories of more Haitians start "Ekzile" before rising string work and percussion lead to a swelling finale. 

"You Don't Know Me" stands out as a pop single on a very fluid album and while it is fine in and of itself, it seems a touch out of place and one note. Better is the slow rising dawn of "Vini We" complete with sweeping doorways and animal noises as the environment of Haiti comes to audial life. The field/earth song "Artibonite" is pushed along by percussion and McCalla's strong vocals before the floating/smoky guitars of "Mountain Song" and the French vocals of "Boukman's Prayer" wrap things up. 

The incredibly personal project from Leyla McCalla, Breaking the Thermometer, is an engaging journey of self-discovery and identity definition as well as a positive musical portrait of Haiti. While not as world welcoming as her best past work, the historic importance and individual Haitian pride throughout makes for a enjoyable discovery.    
RtBE are huge fans of McCalla. ranking Capitalist Blues as our favorite of 2019 and high on our decades end list. Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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