New Music: Sonya Cotton – It Is So

Sonya Cotton’s new album – It is so – (released this week via bandcamp and her personal website) is a beautiful, touching collection of songs dedicated, as Sonya writes, “…to the life and spirit of my mother, Karen Imparato Cotton.”  The album also contains the track “Song For Eric,” a tribute to Sonya’s friend Eric Bayer who died of cancer shortly after her own mother succumbed to the same disease.  Given these moments of great loss, it might be expected that an album like It is so would be somber and funereal.

And yes, there is sadness and loss in It is so. And yet, the album is also a wonderful celebration of life in all its forms.  As Sonya writes: “The album is a tribute to my mother who passed away two years ago; she had cancer.  In addition to exploring loss of many kinds (loss of life, of safe space, of hope,) the songs are also, as I see them, prayers, and celebrations of love.”

Beginning as it does with the traditional “Remember and Do Pray for Me,” the album’s first track “Man in a Tree with a Gun” is captivating in its juxtaposition of the gathering strength of the traditional song and the dramatic, dynamic harmonies of the middle sections.  It is, in many ways, a fitting model for an album that explores the concepts of joy, love, and loss in such detail.  From the driving fatalism of “One By One” to the somber beauty of “Washington,” It is so is an album that accomplishes the complicated task of fusing poetry, storytelling, and intimate reflection with breathtaking ease.  In its weaving of complicated vocal harmonies, space, and a largely acoustic palette, the album arrives with the force and grandeur of a magic spell – at once too brilliant to exist and too rare and precious to turn away from.  It is also an album that causes me to strongly recall the Joan Baez albums that my father and I loved to share, or the expertly crafted The House Carpenter’s Daughter by Natalie Merchant.

Put simply, I love this album.

Shortly after I received it, I received the news that someone I had known in high school had rather unexpectedly passed away.  She was too young, as is so often the case, and she left a beautiful family behind.  It was just awful.  And as death so often does, these days, I was immediately drawn to my unresolved feelings from my father’s death.  Dark places, indeed.

But It is so was there, and it was in listening that I found that Sonya had managed to write an album that could both acknowledge and embrace heartfelt losses, while also encouraging one to heal and grow beyond the hurt.  As Sonya wrote in the Kickstarter campaign that launched this album: “Throughout my life, I have often found great solace in the music others have written. I hope that these songs provide some measure of solace for those of you who are experiencing loss of some kind in your own lives.”  I would certainly respond with an unequivocal “yes,” and an enormous round of gratitude.

The album is available now – via Sonya’s website and Bandcamp – for a “name your own price” scheme (read more about it over at bandcamp).  Sonya would like you to know “that 50% of the proceeds will be donated to the American Bird Conservancy, where my mom used to work.”  Honestly, I am certain already that this album is my top ten for not just this year, but since the site began.  Have a listen below, and then go grab it over at bandcamp! And if you’re lucky enough to live in San Francisco, go see Sonya’s CD release party on Sept. 23 at the Community Music Center in the Mission. (And if you really want, tell her Jon from Shh, Listen… sent you, and that she’s awesome.)

Here is It is so:

And here’s the Kickstarter video that launched the album:

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