Cynthia Alexander releases phenomenal live set

When I learned from my friend, Migs P, that Filipino folk-rock goddess Cynthia Alexander released Walk Down the Road: Live On A New Moon, I made a beeline for Music One in the hopes that I might score myself a copy. Lo and behold, there was indeed one CD in stock, which I quickly snapped up, despite the rather hefty Php450 price tag. (Hey, it’s Cynthia Alexander! It’s worth it!!)

Friends, I cannot begin to emphasize how Cynthia Alexander is one of the Philippines’ most under-appreciated musical treasures. Few Filipino – nay, Asian – musicians can replicate her unique fusion of Filipino folk, jazz, and acoustic pop music. Far from prolific, she has released only three “studio” albums in her decade-long career: the stellar debut, Insomnia and Other Lullabyes, the stunning sophomore effort, Rippingyarns, and the deeply complex, thought-provoking third opus, Comet’s Tail. (The second album, Rippingyarns, is actually my favorite album by a Filipino artist. If you don’t have a copy of Rippingyarns, you need to go out and get a copy. If you can’t find one, let me know, and I’ll go out of my way to try and secure one for you. It’s that good.)

I’ll admit that I haven’t seen Cynthia live in a while, but if you have had the pleasure of watching Cynthia’s live shows, well, I’m sure you understand from where I’m coming when I say she brings to the stage an unbridled passion for her music and her art. I’ve seen her shows at 70s Bistro and a couple at Conspiracy, and I always, always, always have a good time. Walk Down the Road: Live On a New Moon captures that passion – albeit without a lot of the banter, which is a shame, because Cynthia knows how to relate to an audience – and then some.

Walk Down the Road: Live On a New Moon is exactly that: it’s a stroll down ten years of Cynthia’s musical legacy, with her handpicking songs from all three albums with the discernment of an artiste forced to select favorites from over thirty works of art. It is but a taste of what she has accomplished in ten years; the overwhelming majority of other musicians take nearly a lifetime to get to the point she has reached in but a decade.

Walk Down the Road: Live On a New Moon opens with Kawikaan, the first of two new tracks; Dumaan Ako is the other new track, with Cynthia’s brother, Joey Ayala, providing an irresistible melody to the poignant yet hopeful words of late poetess Maningning Miclat. Both new songs are in Filipino, which is a pleasant and welcome surprise addition to Alexander’s usually English set.

Cynthia rearranges some tracks on her live set a bit, although none as differently as the intro to U & I, which is the third track on the CD; backup and collaborator Mlou Matute’s reliable alto provides a clear counterpoint to Alexander on this track as well. When Cynthia extends the introduction to Knowing There Is Only Now, she provides added insight into the musical complexities that Cynthia tends to use in her music; a disjointed chord, a subtle minor, a playful bass line, all come together to great effect.

Clearly, Rippingyarns is the star of this live set, with six of 16 tracks taken off that CD; Insomnia and Other Lullabyes is a close second. (You can imagine how this makes me very happy). I cannot express the jubilation at hearing, in live format, recorded for posterity, the introspective nuances of tracks like Walk Down the Road or Intertwyne, whose messages take on new meaning years after their release; the emotional rollercoaster that is No Umbrella, the renewed vigor of Cynthia’s breakthrough hit, Hello Baby, written for her “baby,” Tala, who Cynthia now points out is 12 years old and taller than she.

Even as Cynthia narrowed the final cut to 16 tracks, the exclusion of several of her best work – at least in my opinion – can prove to be jarring. Most clearly missed is the classic Comfort In Your Strangeness, performed live at 19East to stunning effect, or so I heard from Redg, with Coke Bolipata? Where is I Don’t Mind, a live set favorite, or Insomnia, a great sing-along? So many great songs, so little time. To jam-pack 16 songs into one CD is, in itself, an accomplishment; to expect a musical artist like Cynthia to cater to the fans’ whims is, well, quite indicative of how little we know of artists, yet how appreciative we are of their body of work. Yet, what an impressive body of work, it is!

(I would not flatter myself to call myself a fan of Cynthia’s, but listening to Walk Down the Road: Live On a New Moon, it brings me back to a time I treasure dearly, the days of 70s Bistro, days of hanging out with my friends Mikoid, Candice, Gen Wang, Charo… the days when I was younger, wilder, somewhat more carefree. Cynthia Alexander provided the soundtrack to a very important part of my life, and for that, I will always be grateful.)

Walk Down the Road: Live On a New Moon is available at Music One Glorietta, Greenbelt, and Quezon Avenue, as well as Fully Booked, mag:net, and a variety of other music/bookstores. It’s independently produced and independently released, so you know the Php450 bucks will return in large part to Cynthia, which, in turn, helps ensure we will continue to hear her make great music for another decade to come. Don’t take my word for it, friends, give this a listen. Here’s Weather Report off Walk Down the Road: Live On a New Moon.

[audio:12 Weather Report.mp3]

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