Epiphany Project,
Epiphany Project
(self-produced, 2001)

They evoke images of Renaissance from the '70s and '80s, and October Project from the '90s. Art rock has been updated for the early 21st century. Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLachlan-sounding vocal influences blend with classically inspired music that can only be described as alternative or experimental folk-rock, i.e., defying categorization. Comprised of vocalist Bet Williams and classically trained pianist John Hodian, and accompanied by various other musicians ranging from violinists to electric guitar players, Epiphany Project hits the heights of ethereal and avant-garde, yet heartfelt, compositions.

"Gone," the opening track, starts quietly and builds gradually. The lyrics aren't typical for folk music or even art rock. With merely 23 words comprising five lines, they resemble traditional Japanese tanka, but the music portrays more of a Middle Eastern mood than a Far Eastern one. With merely a quick pause, the CD segues into the second song, "Lockerbie," about the Pan Am flight that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Middle Eastern effect is toned down significantly, and a Celtic-type chant feel takes precedence. However, it's not a dirge. Rather, it's a modern ballad in the terms of ballad as story in poetry -- not ballad as pop love song.

The subject matter of "Widow's Walk," a sea captain who swears he will go down with his ship and the widow who weeps for him, follows along the lines of a traditional Scottish ballad, despite the fact that the lyrics don't follow ballad format. Violins, played by Elizabeth Kaderabek and Gloria Justin, along with Williams' expressive voice, add to the eerie mood in an almost upbeat way.

Further representing the group's myriad styles, "Tubwahun" is an interesting selection. The opening notes initially give it a pop feel, but once again, the lyrics aren't of the usual pop variety. According to the CD booklet, they're "an ancient Aramaic translation of the beatitudes." The actual meaning in English (the performance is in Aramaic) goes beyond the "blessed are the poor" translation that appears in most Christian texts. Instead, it's "blessed are those who are close to the earth, breathing the full breath of life." There is a certain mystical feel to the song, but it somehow maintains a modern, folk-rock feel at the same time. On the album's other example of religiously inspired material, Williams sings a Latin Mass on "Goth." This song uses 72 overdubbed tracks to bring about the feel of a choir. But there's yet again a difference. This "choir" isn't singing in a medieval European cathedral. The instruments (all played by Hodian on this track) sound fresh, new, electric and digital, bringing about brief comparisons to Phillip Glass.

Williams, whose four-octave range challenges the voices of most chart-topping money makers today, doesn't need actual words in order to sing. At the beginning of "Jealousy," she vocalises along to Hodian's stark piano. Soon joined by other instruments, they all work together to create a contemplative tone as she leads up to and then away from the sparse lyrics. Although both the title "To the Lighthouse" and its accompanying music conjure up images of Virginia Woolf or at least visions of the sea, there aren't any words at all this time. In what Williams refers to as a "vocal tone poem," her voice simply joins the other instruments -- Hodian's piano along with Jonathon Fink on cello, Mary Cullom on cello, and Elizabeth Kaderabek and Gloria Justin on violin.

"Mission Bells" should earn radio airplay, particularly on AAA-type stations. It's a folk-rock sounding number with a clear rock beat. Williams explores the lower depths of her register and demonstrates its strength on a dynamic chorus that comes to a crescendo with Hodian's piano ringing forth in tandem with Kaderabek's and Justin's rhythmic violins.

Epiphany Project is difficult to pigeonhole, which unfortunately means this self-titled release makes for troublesome product placement in CD stores and tough marketing for radio stations. Should it go with new age, folk or pop-rock? It's too bad that stringent insistence on classification might hurt this duo's advancement because while their music is complex, it is accessible. Doubters may be pleasantly surprised by the fusion of Williams' soaring voice and Hodian's evocative piano.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 8 September 2001

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