The name and voice of Donna De Lory sparks a fond, unique and essential memory for me that traces back several decades, long before this opportunity to share my passionate praise of her latest – and perhaps most soothing, soulful and necessary, considering the pandemic era from which it emerged – meditation centered collection, the appropriately titled Gone Beyond.
No doubt most who reflect on these expansive eight tracks will trace the veteran and richly versatile vocalist’s background from her 20 year history of global touring as backup singer and dancer for Madonna through her emergence as a solo pop artist and ultimately a mantra singer.
Yet in 1987, right when she was starting on a career trajectory which also found her recording with everyone from Bette Midler and Leonard Cohen to Belinda Carlisle and the late Selena, her beautiful lead vocal graced an infectious tune called “Lover Man” from https://open.spotify.com/album/0wGB9YtR8MvEeRHTNJKzsE , a now obscure, out of print but excellent contemporary jazz album by saxophonist Bill Bergman. That recording was my introduction to the genre that evolved into “smooth jazz,” and I started writing about that and many other genres – including new age and ambient music – within a few years.
That special, long forgotten song ensured my excited interest in the music De Lory is making in 2021, and I still hear its strains somewhere in the back of my mind even as I begin immersing into this extraordinary project – which begins subtly yet powerfully with the soft dreamy ambiences, gently exotic sound effects and guitar strains and her hypnotic, wafting vocalizations on the spiritually transportive, consciousness expanding nearly 9 minute opener “So Hum/Breathing In.”
Listening straight through from there and the haunting, ethereal, vocally textured “Ma Song” to the easy groove driven Eastern exotica of “Asatoma Sadgamaya” and the breathy, sensual and whisper filled invitation to emerge “Unbreakable,” one feels the load of life’s difficulties lifting, almost encouraging an angelic out of body experience – a rare overriding effect even for a meditation set.
The beautiful, ever so slowly unfolding and evolving journey includes “Forgiveness Prayer,” a heartfelt, sweeping (and ultimately cathartic and cleansing) plea to the divine; the mystical, seductively rhythmic, “choir” driven (via intricate voice textures)” “Om Gate Gate Paragate,” whose title is from a Buddhist mantra intended to be recited daily so as to unlock our perception of fundamental reality; and sweetly caressing “Mary Meditation,” another divinely channeled/connected mantra that increases in rhythmic intensity with haunting distant call and response chants.
De Lory displays her piano mastery on the stark, echoing “Where I Find You,” in which her mostly wordless, sometimes immediate, often times far off vocals share a sense of longing, a quest for universal answers. Suffice to say, taken either in part of as a whole (clearly the best way to embrace the adventurous journey to inner calm that De Lory intends), the vibe of Gone Beyond is light years in purpose and aesthetics from both “Lover Man” and “Like a Prayer.” It’s an incredible experience on its own, but as you listen, it‘s hard not to admire this bold culmination of a creative shift that began with De Lory’s 2009 album The Lover & the Beloved and has included over the years Sanctuary (2009) and The Unchanging (2013).
That overriding “load lifting” sensation is especially relevant because De Lory created the collection, like so many other great works this past 18 months, during quarantine. Faced with the fears and uncertainties of isolation, she found peace, as she has since she was a child, that miraculous voice. Recording fully improvised, deeply emotional vocal tracks became a daily ritual for her, and the album grew from those spontaneous, steam of consciousness moments without regard for the usual trappings of a commercial recording. That means no click tracks, chord charts and big vision music production.
DeLory began enhancing those vocal textures with piano and harmonium, and then decided to build extra textures with the assistance of renowned (and some legendary) musical friends – including bassist Tony Levin, percussionist Jerry Marotta, cellist Jami Sieber, guitarists James Harrah, Gerry Leonard and Gerg Leisz, vocalist James Arthur and mixer Kevin Killen
Just as the album De Lory recorded “Lover Man” was on was instrumental in developing my passion once upon a time for contemporary jazz, perhaps Gone Beyond will work a different kind of transformative magic in people’s lives. After the craziness and anxiety of the last year and a half plus, Gone Beyond reminds us emphatically that De Lory is someone we can turn to for calm, escape and enduring inspiration.
Listen to Gone Beyond here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0wGB9YtR8MvEeRHTNJKzsE