Album Review: Robert Paterson - Winter Songs & Other Works

Winter Songs and other vocal works combines the genius of award-winning composer Robert Paterson and his collaborations with writers such as Ron Singer, Bridget Meeds, and Kenny Berkowitz. In total, the five vocal movements evoke a wide-range of intriguing work that touches on satire, the painful throngs of winter, internet dystopia, obsession with diet and health, and the all-American baseball player. Each movement is composed for a variety of instruments that weaves and mimics the mood set in each poetic cycle. 

What really stands out within these pieces is the thought behind each cycle. The first cycle titled CAPTCHA, also known as Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart, incorporates the phrases from the automated services and separates them into short lyrical phrases. "Secretary metadon" features the sonorous baritone of Jesse Blumberg and Blair McMillen's riveting piano, working together to produce a striking balance of nonsense and clarity. With repeated phrases such as "Robert ROBERT" and "oongled ROBERT" in a row shows the absurdity in how our existence is validated by machines. 

The second cycle, "Winter Songs" touches home as Robert Paterson describes his inspiration for creating this work, heavily influenced by his hometown of Buffalo, NY and the poet Robert Creeley, who taught for a while at the University of Buffalo. Each song is influenced by a poet, namely the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens. For this cycle, Paterson focuses on the serious nature of the cold months, such as "Boy At The Window" based on Richard Wilbur's poem is an, ominous number featuring swirling flutes and violin. The orchestral accompaniment on this part feels like a flurry, coming in waves and rampant trills. "Icicles filled the long window" is a meditative and mesmerizing introduction, opening with a tinny bell and water falling into a woodwind-heavy section that graces these words, "The shadow of the blackbird/ crossed it, to and fro./ The mood traced in the shadow/ an indecipherable cause." Just as there are several ways to describe a blackbird, Paterson explores this theme in many ways to touch at the desperation and feeling of loneliness that winter can bring.

"Eating Variations" juxtaposes the somber mood of "Winter Songs" bringing a playful dose of satire to the forefront. Inspired by the text of the same name, Ron Singer's lyrics are brought to musical life by Robert  Gardner on baritone, Sato Moughalian on flute, Meighan Stoop on clarinet, Victoria Paterson on violin, Robert Burkhart on cello, and Matthew Ward on percussion. The first song, "My Body, A Temple" uses Tibetan singing bowls to introduce us to the "zen" obsession that is so popular in the Western world. Together, the collection is a witty commentary, such as in the 1950's inspired jingle "The Happy Medium" that says, "No cause for excess or alarm!/ A balanced diet, moderate, of delicious treaties, well-prepared, neither avoiding nor overdoing any single food group." Each song could be easily blended into a theatrical performance. 

The last two sections of this work are both narrative cycles. The first, "Thursday" is a series of voicemail messages from different people in the central character's life. Nancy Allen Lundy's soprano glides in shocking volume as she relays the words spoken to her of apology, regret, and debt collection. "Batter's Box" is the second and final cycle to the composition, specifically touching on the life of Mike Piazza of the New York Mets, but overall an American baseball players obsession with his sport. Dimitri Pittas on tenor croons the losses, gains, and intensity of the narrator's life. 

Overall, the strengths of this work rest in the highly crafted words of the several writers who came together to collaborate on each cycle. Paterson's directive compositions are apparent throughout, as Winter Songs is a narrative depicting our contemporary society's obsession with the internet, diet, sports, and momentary depression in the cold winter months. To stream and download the album, visit Robert Paterson's website or visit American Modern Recording's Bandcamp.

Grade: C+


  1. Just curious: I am a huge fan of Robert Paterson's music. This is such a great review, why the C+? Seems not to make sense.

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  3. Why the low grade, dude? That makes no sense. This is an AWESOME album. Peace out...

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