Committed To The Fire was actually released earlier this year, but somehow slipped under the radar; however, albums of such quality should not be allowed to pass undiscovered. A former Page 3 model and actress, despite a musical family background Orpington-born Buirski (and appearing on Top Of The Pops as one of the Page Three Girls in 1977 singing ‘Hold On To Love’), didn’t take up music as a career until she was 30, prompted in part by a chance encounter with Leonard Cohen four years earlier. Although she had previously released two singles, ‘Angel’ as Felicity in 1979 and ‘4 O’Clock In America’ as Felicity Burski in 1981, I first came across her with her 1987 debut, Repairs & Alterations, an album streaked with Cohen resonances, notably on ‘Travelling Home’, and was hooked. It would, however be 12 years before the follow-up, Interior Design (on which the debut’s title track finally surfaced) and it’s only now, following a serious car crash in 2009, that the third of what is planned as a four disc project, Wayfarer – One Woman’s Journey From Illusion To Light (the fourth, as yet undated, will be titled Home), finally arrives, her classically influenced melodies given a country tinge and the spirit of Cohen again hovering.
Recorded with just producer Michael Klein on bass, guitars and percussion and Ian Stewart on keyboards, the thirteen tracks pay testament to her faith and spirituality as they explore various facets and dimensions of love, our relationship with the world in which we live and, well, modern art.
It opens with ‘Collision Of Desire’, a catchy uptempo dobro strum as she sings “I want love and you want lust…You want excitement I want trust”, the theme of love filtered through doubt and uncertainty on the lovely folksy fingerpicked ‘Blow The Dandelion’, a he loves me, he loves me not number that calls Baez to mind as she ponders “is love just a game of chance?Is it written in the stars/On number plates of cars?”
Following the tempo of the title, coloured by synthesised string, ‘The Vampire Waltz’ again addresses the conundrum of knowing whether the new love we have found is real or something we imagine and then try and create and how “when we are cursed with a fixed idea/It’s amazing how many apparitions appear”.
The focus shifts to social commentary with the soaringly sung guitar jangle of ‘Sweet Charity’, initially addressing the allure of charity shops (“Retail therapy for the relatively poor”) but then transitioning into lyrics about how “money won’t find a cure for the cancer in our soul” and that, while charity may salve consciences, “we need to meet each other’s need/With love that’s full”.
It’s not the only track that turns the lens on the wider world. Tinged with touches of Townes van Zandt, the breezy fingerpicked ‘Up Where The Eagles Fly’ is an ecological plea to give the planet a little love and give future generations a chance to live and that “when my body lies dead in the cold dark earth/The only measure of my worth/Will be not what I took but what I gave”. Ostensibly the Cohen-echoing sway of ‘Modern Art’ appears a satirical critique of the patronisation and acquisition of art for financial gain as she sings “Herald the new religion”, but the track works at a deeper level about greed and trading in the human heart, where we “Frame the human spirit/Then hang it on the wall/Make ‘em dance while you call the tune/Make the infinite small” with “Babylon’s whores on the gain”.
Arguably, though, the best of these comes with ‘Who Will Guard The Dog?’ a song about feeling lost, “an outcast separated from my soul”, and the fear of the darkness and the void, with its image of a house barred and shuttered, overgrown with thorns where “the dog is still in chains/Though there’s nothing left to guard/She’s gnawed through the bone of her being alone/And barks at an empty yard” as its ends on a series of questions (“Who will make it better?Who will make it right?”) as it builds to the title’s final line.
Returning to love and relationships, ‘I Will Do Nothing For You’ is surely one of the best end of romance songs about holding on to self-worth ever written, opening with “I won’t paid the town red/Just because I’m blue/And I won’t be unfaithful/Just ‘cos you’re untrue” concluding that “When all our future lies in our past/Stillness breaks the pattern/Doing nothing breaks the cast”.
Accompanied by a quietly rippling guitar, ‘Let It Be For Love’ would be a highlight were it for not only including the word ‘ubiquitous’ in the opening line, but managing to also talk about “Trompe-l’oiel on a massive scale”, the fact that it continues to reveal itself as another prayer for a world of compassion and kindness and that “we’ll always have the choice/Of heaven or hell” merely adds to the scale.
She continues with ‘Nothing To Declare’, another song touched with the soul of Cohen that alludes to the Second Coming. Not to bring “salvation in my pockets” or “redemption up my sleeve”, but Love with “everything revealed” because (recalling an earlier lyric about the blind leading the blind) “there would be no point/In trying to hide it any longer/There was never anything concealed”.
Continuing to channel early Leonard, ‘The Mutual Sigh’ waltzes through a song about the battle of the sexes, its origins stretching back to the Garden of Eden, as men and women are “marching daily into battle/Still wounded by this great divide” in a call for equality with, as she puts in on the sleeve notes “the free man and woman …holding hands either side of their sacred throne”.
She ends with two songs drawing on the imagery of fire, redemption, salvation and rebirth, first up being the lilting ‘Like A Phoenix’ with its lyric about not being imprisoned by anger and pain, but to “let it lovingly teach you/Not become your ball and chain” so you can “rise from the ashes like a phoenix with wings” and you “Don’t let the love of your life be a dream”.
Finally comes the simple fingerpicked yet anthemic title track, about surrendering yourself to the hands of whatever god or faith you hold to be true, to be brought home, to trust not question, to reach within and find the power to seek and find forgiveness and to ascend reborn and transformed in the spiritual, emotional and personal flames.
A magnificent and quietly inspirational album, both a personal testament and a rallying cry to find light and hope in the darkness. Next time, let the trumpets announce its arrival a little.
Artist’s website: www.felicitybuirski.com
‘Blow The Dandelion’ – live: