"Different Skies" provides a sumptuous feast

December 20, 2009 

  • Different Skies

    3 1/2 stars

Stella is a talented septet of Triangle women who perform music without borders in mostly a cappella style. Released earlier this year, "Different Skies" is a sumptuous feast of global sentiments ranging from gospel and pop to blues, jazz, bluegrass and even Bulgarian and Finnish folk songs sung in native tongue.

Stella - Julie Woodmansee, Liz Wing, Julie Mooney, Marya McNeish, Betsy Levitas, Alison Jones and Stacey Anderegg - sing the human condition with compassion and desire. They champion romance and freedom, drawing from such venerated sources as the Georgia Sea Island Singers ("Before this Time Another Year"), Louis Prima ("Be Mine [Little baby]") and Ricky Lee Jones ("Satellites").

The group's inventive arrangements range from spare to lavishly ornamented, as background voices dip, soar and swirl in gorgeous harmonies that accent and fulfill each lead singer's storyline. The 15-song collection features snappy doo-wop, mournful Irish balladry and lonesome Appalachian hymnody. The shaped-note hymn "Wondrous Love" may offer the most exquisite harmonizing of any locally produced recording this year.

A highlight is McNeish's "Teenage Girls," her remembrance of a 15-year-old friend who lost her life at that early age. In this and the other selections of this brilliant collection, Stella shares their common bond of womanhood and friendship, and their enduring love of song.

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