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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Gerry Hemingway - Afterlife (Auricle, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

We all know Gerry Hemingway as an innovative, highly creative and prolific drummer and composer, one of the best of our time, but he is also an esteemed educator, multimedia artist, and a great singer-songwriter. Hemingway released his first collection of intimate songs in 2002, simply titled Songs (Between the Lines), saying that he wanted to “challenge myself to create a recording that would rival the popularity of what gets listened to the most in our household”, after a two years work, with intensive post-production process of editing and mixing.

The follow-up album, Afterlife, took four years to complete. On Songs, he asked vocalist Lisa Sokolov to sing his songs while he played drums, sampler and added backing vocals. Now he is the lead singer, and he says that “some things require a life to be lived before they can happen… It feels to me the time is now to sound a voice to humbly reflect the remarkable beauty of the world, and not hide but rather confront the cruelty of our actions upon it”. If you are bothered by the notion of the title Afterlife, supposedly meant to consoles the living about the ‘other side’, Hemingway assures that it is a “myth we’ve authored to remind us that we are living this life now”.

Hemingway, like in all his musical endeavors, seeks the roads he never traveled on and challenges his experiences as an artist. Now, located in Luzern, he used sonic contributions from local Swiss musicians and longtime comrades like Earl Howard and Ralph Alessi, as well as the advice of Bill Frisell and Nels Cline. Hemingway calls Afterlife an eclectic and not so easy to categorize “songs of love, fear, beauty, being here, loss, courage, frustration, the passage of time, racism, identity and such sweet wonder”.

He transforms pop sensibility into new and deeper territories and proves that he is a very effective vocalist, a kind of 21st-century blues bard and a rapper, with a seemingly unassuming phrasing but quite a personal one, and a songwriter with a compassionate perspective of a Buddhist sage on life and love (“check - what you know / it’s never too late, to let it go”, he sings on the opening “The Creeks Do Rise”; “life like a book that has an end / to a story whose words will send / us out to sea alone” from “Love Me As I Am” and “we can shed a light on shadows / we wish not to see // We will go where we no longer / fear to be” from “The Long March”). “Junkyard Magic” tells a touching personal story about a couple that drifts apart: “Ricky & Randy were like two birds hopping from tree to tree / Spinning tin can wheels of a vehicle called harmony / Ricky was gentle, Randy was proud / Together what they knew best was how to be loud… These two astronauts get ready to blast off and dance on the moon / to dance on the moon / it’s never too soon ~ to dance on the moon”.

But the magic of Afterlife also lies in the rhythmic conceptualizing of the songs. Hemingway’s phrasing, the rhyming texts, the precise editing of the contributing parts of the other musicians, and obviously his own playing on drums and percussion instruments, all construct layered and highly nuanced, sensual rhythmic frameworks that correspond beautifully with the clever and suggestive lyrics. A rare, inspiring gem.