Burlap to Cashmere,
Anybody Out There?
(A&M Records, 1998)

I was first introduced to Burlap to Cashmere by one of my friends who, upon hearing that I loved Jars of Clay, ran off to her room to find Anybody Out There? She prefaced playing the disc with the story of how she had discovered this as-of-yet little known band. She and a friend had gone to a New York club to see a particular band among a plethora of performers, and after that group had performed, they intended on heading out of the club in search of other entertainment. Starting their set as usual with the title track of the CD Anybody Out There?, Burlap to Cashmere began performing just as my friend and her companion had reached the door to the outside. Halted by the power of the music coming from behind them, they spun around, to one look at each other and wordlessly agreed it was not yet time to leave. Their instincts certainly served them well.

The genesis of the group came about when an agent spotted the two singers, and incidentally brothers, Steven Delepoulos and John Philippidis, performing as a duo. Recognizing the appeal of their a cappella style and Greek-influenced music, he encouraged them to expand. Agreeing to form a band, and then gathering their neighborhood musicians together, they created a seven-piece group.

The elegant crescendo that is "Anybody Out There?" is certainly one of the star tracks of the album, combining their awareness of lyrical melody with the rising insistence of an energetic beat. The piece stands out on the album as a showcase for the two brothers' powerful voices and harmonies. Though most of the lyrics are relatively subtle, "Anybody Out There?" also marks the group as a Christian band, and like the aforementioned Jars of Clay, they balance almost effortlessly the strength and sincerity of their faith with energetic and contagious music. As someone who's not particularly religious, but certainly admires true faith, I embraced the album without any feeling of being preached to.

"Digee Dime" introduces the insistent beat which will propel most of the album and immediately calls upon you to get up and dance. "Eileen's Song," apparently written for Delepoulos' fiancee, is a lovely expression of finding your soul mate and introduces the tender side of their sound: "You have one wing / I have the other / seeking shelter like sister and brother / through the winter and through the summer / like one angel we'll fly far away...."

"Basic Instructions" catapults you right back into boogie mode, combining some fabulous, rapid fire guitar and growling lyrics to create one fireball of a song. "Chop Chop" slows just a little bit, inviting you to sing along through infectious lyrics and rhythm.

After "Anybody Out There?" comes "Treasures in Heaven," the most pop-sounding track of the album and the only one I got a little tired of. The repetitive chorus seems to weigh the song down, making it feel like a much longer, less successful ballad than the rest on the album. "Skin is Burning" immediately makes up for the lag, exploding from a quiet beginning, the first track to show an intensity of energy which is not love or joy, but instead anxiety and desire for release: "and my skin is burning / with the fire of the world / sometimes my eyes are tricking me / but when the words of His song / are singing through the birds / I canŐt help but die / so He can take me higher...."

"Divorce" adds layers to the shadowy parts of the album, translating the beat that was previously cheerful into the very embodiment of bitterness and broken love: "love must go both ways / but now the only way was me / so I must leave / before I fall / into your twisted misery." "Good Man" tends back toward the gentle side, and though not quite as evocative as "Eileen's Song" or "Anybody Out There?" -- it gives a welcome rest from the anger of the previous pair. "Scenes" is another of the harsher songs though it is not the vignette that many of the other songs are. The song is, however, driven by a kind of musical emotion that makes the lyrics -- vivid at best, confusing at worst -- into just another instrument and so clarity of meaning is secondary. "Ancient Man" returns to the infectious joy and trust in faith that started the album off, and "Mansions" gives the album a slightly more sober, though no less energetic, way to wind down.

I will be forever grateful to my friend (and she knows who she is) for recommending, and then while she had me within earshot, playing Burlap to Cashmere for me. Although the album takes a few attentive listens to truly appreciate, their style and unmistakable talent have given my music collection a much-needed and, even more rare, a unique, boost.

[ by Robin Brenner ]

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