If you place all of Cynthia Alexander’s five albums next to each other – "Insomnia and Other Lullabies," "Rippingyarns," "Comet’s Tail," "Walk Down the Road," and the newly released "Even Such Is Time" (check it out, it’s stamped 2018) -- the latest’s cover art is simple in design and the least cluttered.
In fact, it only features a dragonfly, Alexander’s name and the album title. Yet in doing so, less is more.
During Alexander’s homecoming show on Saturday at the Music Museum, she explained how moving to Tacoma, Washington, has given her “space.” A quiet space that is a radical departure from the hustle and bustle of life in Quezon City.
And more than the cover to "Even Such is Time," the new album finds Alexander enjoying her solitude. The result is perhaps her most beautiful and deeply insightful album that draws on the poetry of her mother and new spins on old Rippingyarns if you’ll pardon the use of her second album’s title.
When I first heard her music – it was during "Rippingyarns" – I thought Alexander’s quirky voice with its gentle inflections as well as her wistful, twee, and delicate songs were a refreshing change in the indie scene. Yes, her roots were folk, but it veered off in a totally new direction.
The new songs and hearing her live for the first time since 2008 gave the performance a different feel. I know she had voice problems in the days leading up to the show and if it affected her singing, it did show early on but if the resulting raspy sound had shades of Alanis Morrissette, it was just as beautiful. It brought an edge and pain to the songs.
"Even Such is Time" as an album is sparse in its instrumentation but is no less beautiful. Alexander’s singing and songwriting is even more front and center. When you listen to the album version of “Snowhills,” it is almost as if you can feel the snow settle on your hair or shoulder. Live, with the nightingale voice of Abby Clutario (keyboards) and Mlou Matute (keyboards and percussion) adding to the harmony, it’s even more melodious -- solemn even.
The stage design that resembles a sala area with old lamps, chests of drawers, and books gave the performance a warm and even more intimate feel. It was if you were in Alexander’s living room and she’s playing you a song. What I loved about this was – you hung on to every word and note.
In fact, it was a perfect evening that began with a most earnest and passionate performance by Ben & Ben -- a perfect set up for Alexander’s music. They even collaborated on “Dumaan Ako,” a song by her older brother Joey Ayala (one that she also interpreted) and a cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” that was most apt for the set and the show.
And that wonderful cast of musicians - Zach Lucero on drums, CJ Wasu on percussion, Kakoi Legaspi and Rommel Sanchez on guitars, Louie Talan and Yuna on bass while Abby and Mlou shared keyboard duties – added so much to the new songs and old favorites -- “U & I,” and “The Weather Report” to name a few.
It has been nine years since Alexander’s last album, the live "Walk Down the Road," and close to 13 years since she recorded new materials (2005’s "Comet’s Tail"). "Even Such is Time" is well worth the wait as it reveals Alexander who is like fine wine. It’s a mature, deeply introspective, but no less wonderful.
It has been a couple of years since Alexander also performed on our shores. And the Music Museum show, like her songs, is one to remember.
Such it is with one of the most talented and gifted musicians of our time.