Songwriter’s voice lifts music
By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, January 4, 2013
Ari Hest is one of the rare singer-songwriters who’s a better singer than songwriter. On his new album, “The Fire Plays,” the Bronx-born performer displays a handsome baritone capable of sounding raspy and full-bodied at the same time.
Gerry Leonard -- the longtime guitarist for Rufus Wainwright, Duncan Sheik and Suzanne Vega -- produces the album, and he frames Hest’s appealing voice with chamber-jazz arrangements of guitars, keyboards, horns and strings to create a feeling of sophisticated, late-night reverie.
Hest’s lyrics aren’t bad. The fragmentary phrases he favors are vague if evocative, but the payoffs to the verbal hints are delivered not by a hook phrase but by the sound of Hest’s voice.
On the title track, for example, the lyrics suggest a man and a woman on the run from unspecified problems. What is specific is the world-weary stoicism in the singing as it contrasts with the sumptuous piano chords.
Similarly, the identity crisis alluded to on “Last So Long” is resolved not by the lyrics, but by the confidence with which the album’s best melody is delivered over a pealing guitar.