Truth According To Shaz Oye: A Stunning, Terrible Beauty

CD Review
Title: Truth According to Shaz Oye
Artist:  Shaz Oye
Label: Radical Faeries Records
Released: 2008
Stars:  4.0

The truth is that I’ve been meaning to review this very special CD for five months, but somehow couldn’t find the time.  Then my brother-in-law’s father died and on the morning of his wake I suffered a massive muscle spasm attack in my lumbar spine.  Although I was able to make a 15 minute appearance at the wake while on 1500 mg of muscle relaxant, I was completely confined to my bed on the morning of his funeral, in excruciating pain, and unable to sit, stand or walk for longer than two minutes.  So, I finally put on the headphones to my old Sony Walkman to really listen to Truth According to Shaz Oye.

The first thing you will notice about this CD is its striking packaging.  Shaz’s silhouette against a white background adorns the front cover, her back turned just enough so that we can read the word Truth carved into her back.  Ugly black thread stitches the wound, and the words ‘according to Shaz Oye’ appear in red in the bottom right corner.  Flip the CD around and on the back cover is a photo of a naked (past the shoulders) Shaz with her nearly bald head and piercing but soulful brown eyes.  When you open the CD, the same photo of Shaz is on the booklet cover on the left side, the booklet slipping perfectly into a slit inside the cardboard, and on the right under the clear plastic casing is a close-up of that horrible wound that spells Truth in her naked flesh.

Everything about this album has been carefully contemplated to produce the powerful message that Shaz Oye wants to share with her listeners.  The message: life is horrific yet beautiful, and the issues that resonate with her span “redemption to injustice, obsession to grief and loss.”  She is offering us her truth and nothing more.

While Shaz doesn’t give us all the lyrics to her songs (they are available on her website at www.shazoye.com), she does share her inspiration for them in the booklet.

A black, lesbian, militant feminist with a voice described as belonging to the bastard love child of Nina Simone and Antony Hegarty (of Antony & The Johnsons), Shaz Oye’s truth isn’t always easy to acknowledge but it is most certainly real.

You must read everything in the booklet to get the full impact of this album.  Truth opens with Blood On The Bone, written about the Freedom Summer murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner: 3 black men in their 20s who were killed by a Ku Klux Klan mob in Mississippi in 1964.  “Racism and homophobia have always been a part of my world.”  It’s not easy to understand all of the lyrics because of Oye’s distinctive delivery but the music, together with her deep, banshee wail, depict the setting for a thunderstorm of emotion.

Easy Off The Trigger (acoustic guitar-based folk rock) is about the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbeylara, Co. Longford on April 20, 2000.  “Each man kills the thing he loves.”  The poignant piano ballad Sylvia Falling, about the heroin chic phase in the fashion industry is one of my favourites and showcases Oye’s amazing voice to perfection.  Dance With Me…for lovers everywhere… is a lighter, uplifting reprisal from the darkness showcasing Gavin Murphy’s satisfying keyboards.  The River Wild sounds purposefully medieval as it tells the tale of prostitute Molly (Malone – “the tart with the cart”?) and the plight of young women in 18th century Dublin, the “party capital of Western Europe.”

Other endowed musicians who contributed to Truth include Dave McCune (drums, percussion, electric bass, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Dave Malloy (electric guitars), Joe Csibi (double bass), Rory Pierce (cello), and Richie Buckley (soprano sax).

Oye covers Prisoner (Love Theme from Eyes of Laura Mars) in her inimitable style and adds a jazzy, Latin twist to the inspirational bereavement poem Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep (lyric by Mary Elizabeth Frye).  Through A Glass Darkly, a Spanish guitar/flamenco-flavoured ballad “dedicated to anyone who has ever felt ‘the black dog’ stalking them” is another of my favourite tracks.  The beautiful Jericho Mile, influenced by the old gospel song, tells the story of the Palestinians’ apartheid segregation wall on the West Bank of Gaza.

Truth ends with Truth (as it should), a gospel requiem that leaves you feeling melancholy but relieved to realize that there are still artists in today’s music scene that write and sing about matters that really mean something to not only them but many of us too:

TRUTH

A pale spectral light spilled over my head

As I woke on the floor at the foot of the bed

The room became a silhouette of sepia tones

And memories of the night before chased me down

Truth hurts, she said, truth hurts, she said;

My eyes felt heavy and I curled on my side

Lost in the wreckage of my vacant life

Truth hurts when you’re always the last to know

Everyone had gone away and the world has moved on

Truth hurts, she said, truth hurts, she said;

A minute can seem like an hour in a day

I already spent too many lifetimes this way

Drip feeding pain I wanted release

From toxic scars that never heal

Truth hurts, she said, truth hurts, she said;

Let truth be my gallows I make my own home

With the barbs of conscience that wrest with my soul

These shadow companions are all I have left

To serve my time with and shepherd me home

Truth hurts, she said,
Truth hurts, she said…

© shaz oye 2005

Truth According to Shaz Oye will not be for everyone but there is no denying its power to reduce many listeners to a “rapt and reverential silence.”  This is art, for better or for worse, in all its terrible beauty, and I think it’s absolutely stunning.

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