Shayna Zaid & The Catch - Lighthouse (2012)

I've been waiting for this album ever since the night in May, 2008 when I happened into Rockwood Music Hall just as Shayna Zaid was preparing to go on. I had never heard of Shayna but it was apparent within the first couple of songs that I had wandered into something very special. The combination of Shayna's unique voice, her beautiful songwriting, and her powerful performance style had the entire room captivated.

For the last three years, Shayna and her band have worked tirelessly to improve their game. New songs have been written and added to the set, and old songs have been constantly polished and rearranged. They often use video from their shows to improve their performance and there have been personnel changes in the band with each new musician making the band better than ever before. Along the way, they recorded and self-produced two excellent EPs containing many of the songs from their live set.

All this work came to fruition late last year when Shayna and her band went into the studio with producer John Agnello (The Hold Steady, Sonic Youth) to make Lighthouse, Shayna's first full length American album. According to Shayna, the beauty of working with Agnello was that he encouraged them to be creative within the sound that they had worked so hard to perfect. Over the years, Shayna had rejected any deals that would have required them to change their sound. Staying true to their music has allowed them to make a record that sounds like no other. In the artist-friendly environment of the recording studio, their songwriting was allowed to flourish.

Of the twelve original songs (11 plus one hidden track), only three are from the live set, the rest were written specifically for Lighthouse. The music was written by Shayna and the band; the lyrics are all by Shayna. The album is almost entirely acoustic with the sound of the band being the combination of acoustic guitar and violin or acoustic guitar and mandolin. The album is a pleasure from start to finish but the first song that really jumps out at you is Big Apple Love. This is Shayna's love letter to the city of New York, unvarnished to the point that the lyrics reflect her experiences there, both good and bad. The song has one of their most haunting and memorable melodies.

Listen to Big Apple Love.

The album opens with Talk which starts with a really cool and unique rhythm part and features the shimmering acoustic guitar sound that you'll hear throughout the record. Next up is the title track which lays an awesome violin riff on top of the guitar as well as a superb violin solo. Lighthouse is about, well, a lighthouse, both actually and metaphorically; it's a beacon that will guide you through all sorts of messy emotional stuff. All that within a great melody.

Morning Sun will be familiar to anyone who's been to a live show in the last couple of years. This song is driven by the mandolin in tandem with the acoustic guitar and a melody that has single written all over it. The song is brimming with all of the energy and optimism of a full glass of fresh squeezed OJ in the morning. It has great lyrics too; I especially like the lines, "let's take this chance today, press pause and start the play and maybe we can wing a mental health day." You might also be familiar with Morning Sun if you watch network TV; it was used in a Ford commercial that ran nationally last fall. Handshake has an unstoppable violin based melody that shows just how tight this band can play.

Listen to Handshake

It's You is as simple and beautiful a love song as has ever been written; the emotions pour straight from the heart. This song has been in their set a very long time. They've done it every time I've ever seen them play. I've seen the song evolve through different arrangements but it has never sounded better than it does on Lighthouse.

Listen to It's You

Taking Chances and Open Your Heart are two strong mandolin driven tunes. Blue Waltz is the third song to come from their live set and it features a gorgeous violin part, coupled with Shayna's concertina which gives the song a feeling that it's taking you somewhere far, far away. The hidden track is a pretty and intimate little number consisting of voice and acoustic guitar. It closes the album beautifully, and although it's not listed on the cover, from the lyrics I would say that it's probably called If You Need Me.

The band breaks down like this: Shayna sang lead vocals and played the concertina. Chris Heinz is the consummate drummer; he always has just the right touch for the song. He also played percussion and did backing vocals. Cuban born violin virtuoso Yan Izquierdo was classically trained and often performs in classical orchestra concerts when his schedule permits. His artistry with the violin gives the band its signature sound and he is equally adept with the mandolin; he also did backing vocals. Chris and Yan make up the core of the band, having been with Shayna the longest.

Andrew Baird is a total pro on guitar, playing any style with ease; he is a perfect match for Yan and together they create all the sonic textures that you hear on Lighthouse. He also played ukulele and did backing vocals. Fred Gerantabee holds down the other half of the rhythm section with his bass; he also played guitars. That completes The Catch. Additional musicians contributing to Lighthouse include Israel Nash Grypka who played banjo on the title track. Stephanie Wells played piano and organ with additional keys by Alex Lipsen.

The music business has made a trend out of what they consider to be a resurgence of acoustic music fueled by the success last year of Mumford and Son, plus this year's success of The Civil Wars who seemingly came out of nowhere to sell quite well. What these two groups had in common was incredible word of mouth plus lots of airplay on AAA radio (Adult Album Alternative) as well as heavy play on the World Cafe program which is carried by over 200 radio stations across the country.

Personally, I didn't care for the Mumford and Son record and although I liked The Civil Wars' album a lot, I like Lighthouse a whole lot more. I firmly believe that with good exposure this album has the goods to find its audience and catch the wave of acoustic music popularity. This is a work of uncommon beauty; you won't find another singer that sounds anything like Shayna and you won't hear another band that sounds remotely like The Catch. This is a totally original record that is a perfect delight for the ears as well as the heart.

Postscript: Release of Lighthouse is currently mired in red tape with no timetable for resolution. I know that this development has to be a heartbreaker for Shayna and for the band.

Update 3/31/12: Shayna just confirmed that the legal problems have finally been resolved and a release date has been set for April 18th. Click here for the full text of Shayna's post.

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