At first glance, it’s hard to know what to make of Mirah and Spectratone International’s Share This Place: Stories And Observations. Yes, it features a standout from Olympia, Washington-based K Records, collaborating with members of Black Cat Orchestra for the second time. But stepping back: a liberal artsy, thirtysomething, Jewish lesbian teaming up with a cellist, accordionist, and oudist… to sing about… the lives… of insects? Concept albums all have their niche in our hearts, but we’re not talking Ziggy Stardust here, and Share This Place sounds like the product of a class-assignment given by an entomology professor who left his mind in the 60s. And the pisser is – it’s good. Really good.
The idea that the misunderstood insects of Share This Place would communicate in Mirah’s simple, engaging, and perfectly enunciated tones is charming. In “Community”, the opening track, she taunts, “You have but two, we have six / we can use them to such great accomplishment, / the sum of all, all of us all / outweighs humanity’s obstinance,” so pleasantly that it seems as if, “Okay, now everybody!” can’t be too far behind, until the song closes with an eerie refrain of, “We get things done.”
Mirah’s voice shifts fluidly into the melancholy nostalgia of “Gestation of the Sacred Beetle”, to a quasi-journalistic scolding, backed by Kyle Hanson’s stolid accordion, in the waltz, “My Prize,” and to the urgent narrative of the fabular “Song of Psyche.” A standout track is “My Lord Who Hums”, punctuated by Lori Goldston’s insistent strikes on the cello, while Mirah calls, “Listen to the stories of / the people who once gave me their love / If I am killed and not understood / you will never learn what you could.” In the world Mirah has created in Share This Place, insects aren’t squashed; they're killed.
Share This Place’s minor flaw lies in the sometimes jagged reconciliation of its own lyrical tone from track to track. In the cheerfully march-like “Credo Cigalia”, lines such as, “Dedicatedly I eat by plunging my proboscis deep into this tree,” sound almost humorously academic, and part of Share This Place’s success lies in its ability to abstain from sounding academic, and so enabling the listener not simply to empathize with insects, but to revere them as well.
This shouldn’t take away from Share This Place’s overall triumph as an indie-folk concept album done right. It’s a bit unfortunate – though not surprising – that the album wasn’t created for its own sake, but rather as a project (with rather mediocre multimedia accompaniment) commissioned by the Seattle International Children’s Festival and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. We would all like to believe that singer-songwriters can spring out of bed any morning feeling the urge to sing an ode to the flies in their kitchen sink. However, if Mirah and Spectratone want to reconvene to similar ends, we’re all ears. Err… antennae.