Picks and Pans Review: Signs of Life

updated 10/29/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/29/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Barbara Higbie

For better or worse, the Windham Hill label came to fame as a champion of new age music. But Windham Hill also releases a quality jazz series and has now ventured in a new direction: '70s style folk-rock.

The label's talented folkies revive the gentle music of the American troubadour, with one odd, sometimes unsatisfying twist. Their songs about love and self-examination mostly avoid the politics and protest of traditional folk music.

Easy-listening stations ought to find Eberhardt as welcome as iced tea in August. He writes melodic love songs and sings them accompanied by acoustic guitar and a pop combo with a light touch. Though the beat often feels sluggish, the songs get some spunk from Eberhardt with his forceful, husky delivery.

The typical "The Long Road," a duet with Richie Havens, sends out a moving message about friendship uncomplicated by social concerns. Though Eberhardt grew up in Philadelphia and now lives in New York City, his songs suggest he hasn't been consumed by urban turmoil. Lucky guy.

Gorka, with a rich voice reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot, takes a larger world-view in his lyrics. One song depicts prison life, another describes teenagers at a senior prom as if they are pigs preparing for slaughter in the real world. "Stranger in My Driver's Seat," about a car theft in New York City, defends the self-pity of the car's owner without making an issue of it. Gorka, like Eberhardt, is no deep, deep thinker, but his sad. sweet love songs such as "The One That Got Away," a duet with Shawn Colvin, make his limitations forgivable.

Pianist Barbara Higbie, who writes pretty music and sings it sweetly, takes a fatal plunge into a swamp of pop clich├ęs. Her songs about walking in the rain and wanting honesty in a lover sound as stale as the cake that got left out in MacArthur Park.

Best known as the keyboardist for the jazz fusion group Montreux, Higbie has lived and performed around the globe: it's surprising that her first album as a songwriter expresses such a limited view.

In the best folk music, both the playing and the singing sound heartfelt. So far, these new kids on Windham Hill have mastered only the first part of that equation. (Windham Hill)

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