Well, here’s something a bit different. Based in Toronto, Lapell’s preceding three albums have all won her Canadian Folk Music Awards. Those were all original material, but here, produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies and part inspired by a bout of insomnia during lockdowns and part by the arrival of several new babies in her extended family, she’s assembled Lullabies, a collection of traditional songs from around the world, arranged and performed on classical guitar and variously sung in English, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Yiddish, German, Japanese and Welsh, albeit some have new English lyrical adaptations and there is one self-penned number.
It starts off in French with the sparse plucked strings of the Quebec traditional ‘Isabeau’, which relates how, out walking by her garden at the water’s edge, a young girl meets thirty sailors aboard a boat, one of whom starts singing a song which she wants to learn. This version doesn’t have the poor lad drowning in trying to retrieve his ring, which would be more likely to induce nightmares than pleasant dreams.
Accompanied by sparse picked guitar, the vocally multi-tracked ‘Go To Sleep’ is the Lapell original, based on a fragment of a half-remembered lullaby sung to her and her siblings by her mother, a suitably dreamy (indeed, it actually reminds of ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’) number with imagery of moon, stars and night breeze. Switching to Yiddish, recorded live off the floor, the mournful ‘Oyfn Pripitchek’ or ‘On The Hearth’, was written in the 19th century by Russian folk poet and composer Mark Markovich Warshawsky about a rabbi teaching his young students the Hebrew alphabet, though again she soften things by singing only the first verse an refrain, omitting the verses about how life as a Jew is one of hardship and tears.
It’s on then to Wales for the lilting, wintery ‘Suo Gân’ (lull song), a song of parental love and protection first printed around 1800 in which the sleeping child is shielded from dangers outside the door, Lapell singing in both Welsh and, her own adaptation, English. From there we head to Cuba and, performed on classical guitar with a chorus of harmonies and her alternating between Spanish and English, ‘Senora Santana’, in which a stranger offers to replace the apple a crying young child has lost along with one for his mother. She doesn’t, however, include the parentally familiar bit about how he refuses to be mollified and wants the original back.
Switching continents, her lyrically abridged take on the Japanese cradle song ‘Lullaby Of Takeda’, again partly in English, is inspired by the hit 1971 version by folk group Akai Tori, the song part of the Japanese child nursemaid tradition and sung by a young girl forcibly sent away to work for a rich family beyond her mountain home, every day, working with a crying baby on her back, looking at the silhouette of the mountains as a reminder of her family.
It’s back to Jewish source material for the lovely, soothingly sung traditional (though credited to Yekhil Halperin and Yoel Engel as, respectively, lyricist and composer) Hebrew lullaby ‘Numi Numi’ (‘Sleep, Sleep), in which a child is urged to sleep, reassured that dad will return from work with a present when the moon is out.
The moon also shines on the final track, ‘Der Mond Ist Aufgegangen’ (‘The Moon Is Risen), an 18th century German lullaby and evening song by Matthias Claudius, here as an abridged version with stripped-down classical guitar, multi-tracked harmonies and interspersed with her English language first verse as she sings of the rising moon, stars shining and mist rising up from the meadow, a spiritual message about sleep bringing solace from the day’s distress.
Lullabies is a soporific album that can have you nodding off as you listen. With Lapell that’s a compliment.
Artist’s website: www.abigaillapell.com
‘Isabeau’ – official video: