Antony and the Johnsons: The Crying Light
(Secretly Canadian)

Like a fool, I didn't pay nearly enough attention to Antony and the Johnsons' 2005 album I Am a Bird Now (or, for that matter, his self-titled debut). It was that voice. I thought it was too much, too vampy, maybe a little too reminiscent, somehow, of David Sedaris's famed Billie Holiday impersonation. I was so very wrong. So thank the gods that Hercules and Love Affair came along and snuck Antony Hegarty's singular singing voice into my ear via the Trojan horse of nouveau (or nu-vogue) disco, a genre that is, to mix classical metaphors, kind of my Achilles' heel.

It turns out, of course, that Antony's voice is astounding in any setting, but much more so when given the spotlight and relatively spare accompaniment it receives on The Crying Light. The album is dedicated to the 102-year-old Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno (pictured in deathly rigorous pose on the album's cover), who is now bedridden and unable to speak. Ohno is a handy and poignant embodiment of The Crying Light's apparent but somewhat lyrically oblique central theme of facing death, and life, with grace.

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The album matches such starkly hopeful sentiment with appropriately subdued arrangements of piano and strings, out of which bloom, at just the perfect moments, little bursts of uplifting melody on woodwind or brass. But the focus throughout is Antony's voice, whose trembling emotional range is equaled by its sweeping tonal scale, which flies high and wallows low, sometimes from one line to the next, with stunning fluidity.

It's impossible to pinpoint standouts from this cohesive and consistently stunning album, but there are plenty of haunting moments: Antony pleading, "mercy, mercy" on "One Dove," the climactic key change in the title track, the refrain "kissed by kindness" on "Daylight and the Sun." Though its 40 minutes pass by deceptively fast, The Crying Light, is a compact epic, with never a breath or note wasted. recommended

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