Chris McNulty ‘Eternal’ (Palmetto) 4/5

chris-mcnulty“Eternal” is the seventh release by acclaimed vocalist Chris McNulty. A deeply personal album, it celebrates the life of her son Sam, who passed away in 2011. Such a beautifully crafted and heartfelt performance throughout the album leaves you feeling the bond she must have had with her son, through the music chosen and the sensitive approach taken from all the musicians involved. A large part of Eternal’s success as an album is due in no small part to the wonderful orchestrations of Steve Newcomb, who created the string arrangements for chamber ensemble, made up of 4 woodwind players (playing multi instruments) and 4 string players.
One important thing that has to be said is that the strings are both well crafted and sympathetic without ever drifting into a slushy sentimentality. Pianist John Di Martino plays with a thoughtful subtle style and beauty throughout. They are ably joined by bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
The song choices for the album were made by McNulty – obviously with her son Sam very much in mind, but also with an understanding that she did not want Eternal to become a morose or simply sad story. McNulty herself says; “I think the music has lots of brightness and joy in it too,. I am a musician first, so the songs have to speak to me musically, melodically, emotionally and lyrically as they always would. I just chose the songs that made the most sense for telling Sam’s story.” From the opening notes of Steve Khun’s “The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers” the listener is drawn in. And from the very first minute we hear McNulty’s eloquent, exquisite vocals, we know this is an album we are going to be listening to time and time again; to catch those rare moments of beauty a release such as this delivers. Throughout, McNulty uses her emotion in a peerless, mature and confident way, never falling into the trap of allowing understandable sentimentality to get in the way of a consummate performance. The song choices themselves make for a wonderful songbook, where the music effortlessly flows through us, and the poignant lyrics envelop us – none truer than on Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy”: “The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return.” Along with the eleven standards comes one McNulty original, “You are there” – a heartfelt impassioned piece, sung directly to her son. As she explains: “I’m speaking to Sam and I’m also reflecting on different memories: being on subways with him as a little boy, seeing him with his friends as a young man growing up.”

This must have been a difficult, yet ultimately rewarding album for McNulty to make. It is brave, warm, and touching. One thing’s for sure – her son would have been very proud.

Mike Gates