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The Whispering Tree – “Space Oddity” (David Bowie cover); “Mother” (Pink Floyd cover) (The Whispering Tree)

The Whispering Tree - "Space Oddity"
2 January 2017

In his issue 79 review of Katie Burden’s Strange Moon, Jack Rabid referenced pop music’s sudden surfeit of spellbinding, siren-like female voices, offering as evidence Norway’s Susanna, Weyes Blood, Angel Olsen, Rachel Goswell, The Lovely Intangibles’ Mary Ognibene, and Few Bits’ Karolien Van Ransbeeck. To that list I’d add this New York duo’s Eleanor Kleiner. On TWT’s self-titled 2007 debut mini-LP, 2010’s lone LP Go Call the Captain, and 2013’s The Escape EP, her cascading, clearly enunciated, classically trained croon captivated – see Captain’s beautiful ballad “The Tallest” for confirmation. But even compared to those three resplendent releases, these dreamy covers of two familiar classic-rock staples feel like epiphanies. Their arrangements are so assiduously crafted, and Kleiner’s singing so stupendous, it’s like you’re hearing each song for the first time (as was the case on their vivacious version of the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg 1939 Wizard of Oz classic “Over the Rainbow” on The Escape).

Of the two, the newly-released “Space Oddity” – from David Bowie’s 1969 eponymous second LP, and a #15 single in the U.S. following its reissue in 1973 – is more presently pertinent, given 2016’s inexplicable inundation of musician/rock star deaths, of which the gargantuan, gifted Bowie’s passing at age 69 was perhaps the greatest gut-kick. (Leonard Cohen, another giant who died in 2016 at age 82, also had his 1988 “Everybody Knows” covered by TWT, in 2013.) Backed by French multi-instrumentalist Elie Brangbour’s soft stand-up bass/acoustic and spacey synth, some sporadic handclaps, and her own twinkling piano, Kleiner’s sumptuous vocal seduces from the moment she springs into the song’s recognizable opening line, “Ground Control to Major Tom.” Joined by a female backing vocalist, Kleiner’s translucent trill soars and soothes, as if you’re taking a tranquil trip in Major Tom’s “tin can,” floating far above the world.

Their early 2016 cover of “Mother” – from Pink Floyd’s 1979 #1 smash hit eleventh LP and concept album The Wall – is similarly satisfying and soulful. Unlike Pink Floyd’s original, which builds to a full-band rock crescendo, TWT’s more alluring adaptation is again achieved with pretty piano, spacious synths, and gentle guitar/bass shading. As well, Kleiner tackles both the “male” and “female” character’s verses (reflecting a conversation between The Wall’s withdrawn rock star protagonist Pink and his controlling mother, respectively sung by Roger Waters and David Gilmour on the original), with Brangbour furnishing hushed harmonies. “Mother, do you think they’ll like this song,” you ask? A resounding “Yes!” Now here’s hoping TWT will “drop the bomb” with a new LP soon. (