"'New Siberia' is a special album to me because the songs are wiser," says songwriter Antje Duvekot. "They have an age to them that should resonate with anyone who's struggled through a difficult period and come out better.There's something really sweet in being able to look back on a journey like that, from a darker, younger self to a better, older place."
That might not seem like a startling statement from most songwriters. But Duvekot is not most songwriters. For years, her songs have been critically praised for their hard-won wisdom, dark-eyed realism, and street-smart romanticism. Fans will certainly find all of that in 'New Siberia.' But coursing up from beneath the dark, like flowers pushing through stone, is a mature sense of hope, growth, renewal, and love. She sees past the ghosts of a receding past to forge new trails of self-exploration, judging her journey not only by what's facing her, but by how far she's already traveled.
Blending uncommonly beautiful vocals with one of the sharpest poetic sensibilities in her field, Duve- kot has a remarkable ability to make us believe she is whispering secrets in our ear, and we know that she believes every word she sings."New Siberia" is her third studio album -- and a masterpiece of the modern folk genre. She assembled it herself with a fresh confidence enhanced by the fan loy- alty displayed on Kickstar ter.com. Again produced by folk legend Richard Shindell, the cinematic en- semble sound showcases Duvekot's bold, sure-footed path through emotional terrain most artists dare not even enter. "Musically, I think I am in the strongest place I've ever been," says Duvekot.
"This album is even more personal than the last one, which was pretty personal,'' she adds, alluding to "The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer,'' voted top album of 2009 by lauded folk station WUMB 91.9 FM in Boston.The new record seeps further into the heart. She says "it includes a song about my mother that took me 20 years to write ('Phoenix'), a song about my dreams of making music becoming shattered ('The Life of a Princess'), and a song about not fitting into high school ('Glamorous Girls').''
The theme is a triumph over a difficult past. After being separated from her brother and father at age 13, Antje found herself uprooted from her native Heidelberg, Germany, to Delaware, where her home further fractured, as she struggled to assimilate, lacking English language skills or the familiar cultural sign posts from her youth. But she is more optimistic today, having found love and become an esteemed headliner in the U.S. and overseas as more people discover the power of her intimate music. "What a blessing to have worked with someone as talented as Antje,'' says Shindell, her pro- ducer. "With a voice like hers and songs as good as these, a producer just tries to get out of the way, do no harm, and let the artist speak for herself.''
Shindell played acoustic guitar and gathered a top-notch band to record at NRS Studios near Wood- stock. Band members include drummer Ben Wittman (Paul Simon, Paula Cole, Jonatha Brooke and Rosanne Cash), electric guitarist Marc Shulman (Suzanne Vega, Jewel, Chris Botti), and bassist Lincoln Schleifer (Levon helm, Rosanne Cash, Greg Trooper). Folk star John Gorka contributed backup vocals and guest cameos came from mandolinist Mark Erelli and world-class cellist Jane Scarpantoni.
The title "New Siberia'' is a metaphor for where Antje is headed. Having sprung from a cold, inhospi- table place, she has moved on but also retained the past that shaped her. "The pain is built-in, but a lot of these songs are life-affirming. I have managed to save myself while staying honest about where I came from,'' she says. A stunning video captures the essence of the title track. Director Asia Kepka tookAntje to a beach in Rockport,MA and created a fantasy sequence.Antje has never looked more mysterious, nor more determined.
The most haunting track is "Phoenix,'' in which Antje cathartically addresses her mother: "I rose up like a phoenix, rose up from your ash/ You just turned your back and I'll never understand.'' But there are also welcome moments of comic relief, as on "The Perfect Date'' (about an awkward first date that still suggests true love in the making) and the satirical "Glamorous Girls.'' There's also an imagi- native interpretation of Amelia Earhart's little-known co-pilot, Fred Noonan, and his possible feelings for her ("the Ballad of Fred Noonan").
No one writes quite like Antje, who was influenced lyrically by the very greats -- Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, who are Mt. Rushmore-like figures to her. "Antje is the rare artist who can write about the social and the personal in the same breath,'' says folk icon Ellis Paul. "Her voice has a sound of innocence and naivete which makes razor-sharp insights into the human condi- tion.'' Adds producer Neil Dorfsman, who has worked with Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Sting: "She creates an entire, detailed world in verse, and takes you there with beautiful and understated mel- ody. Her songs are stunning paintings of color and shade.'' And as Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh says, "Antje is the whole package.''
Antje's path has taken many twists and turns, from Germany to the University of Delaware, then to a short stint in NewYork City andVermont,followed by her current residence in Boston.She is of- ten also on the road, stopping at the prestigious Newport Folk and Philadelphia Folk Festivals, the classic radio show "Mountain Stage'' and overseas at the Celtic Connections Festival in Scotland and the Tonder Festival in Denmark. She has won the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and the best new folk award at the Kerrville Festival as well as the Boston Music award for "outstanding folk artist".
Her first album, "Big Dream Boulevard,'' was produced by Seamus Egan of Irish-American super- group Solas. Her second, "The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer,'' was produced by Shindell. And now there's "New Siberia.'' As she says, "I've grown and come to a stronger period in my life. I can look back with more optimism than before. I've really come far. I think you can only look back when you're in a stronger place.''
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