Review: Shawna Lenore & Darrell Kastin “Mar Portugues/Portuguese Sea”

Shawna Lenore & Darrell Kastin “Mar Portugues/Portuguese Sea”

10 Mar, 2011 Mike Roots

Besides the obvious, the father-daughter duo of Darrell Kastin and Shawna Lenore have a great deal in common.  Kastin, a Los Angeles native, is an author of novels, short stories and poetry, as well a musician and composer.  The Undiscovered Island, a novel written by Kastin, was published in 2009 while he also released a CD, Lullabies for Sinners, in 2007.  Lenore shares her father’s literary and musical talents and passions.  A graduate of Smith College and a singer, poet and writer, she is in the process of furthering her literary skills and credentials at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Recorded in one week, Mar Português is a collection of poem-songs sung in Portuguese and represents a convergence of these gifts and passions as the love of music and poetry are joined in a unique collaboration.  A point worthy of mentioning is that Elisabeth, Kastin’s wife and Lenore’s mother, is Portuguese, thus inspiring a love and appreciation for Portuguese literature, music and culture.  In the spring of 2010, Kastin and Lenore traveled to Lisbon to work on the project with Pedro Barroso, a legendary songwriter, musician, singer and producer, along with his group of consummate musicians.  The result is so natural, fluid and complete that one would think Barroso is Kastin and Lenore’s long lost brother and uncle, thus making Mar Português truly a family affair.  Characterized by stark beauty and a balance of old world flavor and timeless relevance, most of the songs on this project clock at around three minutes.  For those unfamiliar with the language, all of the Portuguese poems (either written by Fernando Pessoa or Florbela Espanca) used on Mar Português were thoughtfully translated into English and printed in the accompanying booklet.

“Mar Português” (Portuguese Sea),” the pensive title track, allows Lenore’s voice to glow, showcasing its heartfelt and expressive resplendence.  With spartan accompaniment, including piano, guitar and cello, the song serves as a fitting introduction, easing the listener in.  The haunting beauty of Miguel Carreira’s accordion, along with guitar and percussion, make for a soothing rhythmic mixture on “Voz Que Se Cala” (Voice That Remains Quiet).”  As she caresses each note, Lenore brings Espanca’s poem to life, projecting an emotional connection with its love of nature and the deeper meaning found in its nuances.

“Conto de Fadas” (Fairy Tale)” with lyrics translated as, “My gestures are like the waves of Sorrento / I bear the letters of a flower in my name / It was from my blue eyes that a painter / Took the light and painted the wind,” is yet another example of the evocative and intriguing poetry brought to life with Lenore’s gorgeous voice and sparse yet fervent musical accompaniment.  “Dom Sebastião” and “O Nosso Livro” (“Our Book”) feature Barroso’s wonderfully rich baritone which contrasts beautifully with Lenore’s voice, the latter of the songs being a lovely duet.

Mar Português also features three hidden bonus tracks, the final one serving as Kastin’s (English) spoken message of his vision for the project, gratitude for all who participated and encouragement for listeners to explore Portuguese literature and culture.  This, along with having all of the poems/lyrics translated, offers a hearty welcome for the uninitiated.  For what it’s worth, fans of bands such as Plumb and Evanescence’s Amy Lee may indeed notice a connection with Lenore’s vocal talents and the mournful winsomeness reflected here.  Whether Plumb or Lee are directly influenced by Portuguese music, such as that contained on Mar Português, is something interesting to consider.  What is certain is the father-daughter duo of Darrell Kastin and Shawna Lenore, along with Pedro Barroso, have created a beautiful recording, full of austere yet refined melody, texture and lyrical depth.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)