Album Review: ON THE ROCK (Ofra Harnoy)

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by Tony Frankel on November 15, 2020



North America’s only known Viking settlement is also the place on our continent where the sun first rises. I’ve heard about the Canadian Province Newfoundland and Labrador mostly from cruise and land package ads. It is sold as having a reputation for people who are warm, welcoming, fun loving and “funny to the core” with a knack for storytelling. I’ve heard about the seafaring and the pubs with raucous singing that goes late into the night. I also imagine it a place of stunning vistas and, given a high of 61 Fahrenheit in the summer and freezing in the winter, nurturing reflection. Well, just now in the middle of our COVID crisis, I took a trip to Newfoundland courtesy of Canadian-Israeli cellist Ofra Harnoy, who — with husband Mike Herriot, a polymath instrumentalist — assembled a collage of works that took me away from this shit-show of a year and transported me to a place that’s as warm and friendly and spirited and tender and nurturing as the tour guides say it is.

Harnoy, on the heels of last year’s awesome husband-and-wife classical project Back to Bach (also recorded in their new home of Newfoundland), comes this diverse collection of traditional songs, dance reels, and plaintive ballads. Harnoy, who’s finding new life on the Analekta label, brings a soulful, cleansing timbre like that of falling rain. And Herriot must be having a blast playing all matters of horns, bass and percussion. His engineering skills are magical, proving that overdubbing is a pandemic’s best friend. He also uses guests Fergus O’byrne, Alan Doyle, Kelly-Ann Evans, Maureen Ennis, Heather Bambrick, Kendel Carson, Amanda Cash, and Bob Hallett, all of whom bring the character of the land and its ancestors — English, Scottish, et al. — into your living room for a night of festivity and tunes deeply rooted in history (Herriot’s historical notes for each of the 14 tracks are invaluable). It’s a lovely journey, although I must say that the only thing missing from the Highlands tune “Donald Willie and His Dog” were actual Newfoundlands and Labradors licking my face. I can’t wait to experience the awesome land this couple calls home.

On the Rock
Ofra Harnoy (& Mike Herriot)
14 tracks | 48:23 | released August 6, 2020
available at Amazon

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