Kris Tronerud, reviewer for The Brattle Theater, Cambridge, MA
Whenever I’m given
something... any piece of art, music, or whatever... from somebody in my circle of friends, it’s a double edged sword
- I could be turned onto some great new something I wasn’t aware of before - or I could be receiving something I’m
not going to like, and I end up having to find a polite way of not saying I hated it. In the case of Lisa Ostrow’s Unconditional,
I needn’t have worried. Even after my initial positive reaction, I put it down for awhile, just in case I was not being
entirely objective. When I listened again, I liked it even more.
Make no mistake, Ms.
Ostrow is, as they say, a talent to reckon with. Take note: your reviewer is a 60’s kinda guy, most often disposed to
classic rock and renegade Indie, so when I tell you the following, you may take it that I was thoroughly surprised, disarmed,
and won over by Unconditional. As a point of reference, think: the clarity and focus of early Julie Andrews filtered through
the purity of voice of Joan Baez, with a smattering of Oasis era Maria Muldaur channeling very early Marianne Faithfull, with
a healthy dose of... well, Lisa Ostrow; as she takes these various influences (and probably others) and makes of them something
distinctly her own.
Ms Ostrow’s particular gift (aside from that spring water clear
voice, of course) is that rare ability to take strong, heartfelt emotion, and, instead of ramming it down our throats, coax
us into her world, letting the songs speak for themselves. In Ostrow’s world, the song is king, and that makes us listen,
(what a joy to have the words matter again) and care. In the service of that goal, it must be said that Ostrow is one of those
rare performers who have a direct connection from their heart to their instrument: no filters, guile or pretension; that instrument
being the aforementioned, and, in the very best possible sense, sweet voice.
music is almost uniformly delightful. After a brief tease of Anything can Happen, Unconditional gets its only clunker out
of the way, the Vegas-y Once Upon a Time, which strains to little effect. After that though, Unconditional just keeps getting
better and better. As soon as everyone steps back and lets Ostrow loose on the songs, she skates across Patrick Dreier’s
spare, elegant production and Scott Nicholas’s rich piano accompaniment with an effortless songcraft that seems both
confident and oddly humble. Lisa Ostrow has a thing for the music of Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn, and delivers a brace
of Wildhorn’s best, which form the core of Unconditional, and, quite frankly, have never sounded better. From the simple
and heartfelt And So Much More, to the sexy bounce of Don’t Ask Me Why, to the swingin’, and downright funny Is
This Any Way To Fall In Love, Ostrow brings out the subversively simple and seductive structure and lyrical candor of Wildhorn’s
best work, and makes it her own. And, in her hands, I’ll Forget You takes its place alongside I Get Along Without You
Very Well in the short list of great breakup songs.
Even when Unconditional
veers perilously close to Celine territory (the vaguely overbearing When You Tell Me That You Love Me), Ostrow’s plain
dealing honesty of presentation carries us through the rough spots, bringing the album through the chilling Maybe I Like it
That Way, and the sensual Unusual Way, winding up with the full version of Anything Can Happen and the quietly upbeat If I
Had My Way. Key in that journey is the consistently first-rate musicianship on Unconditional; special mention going to Don
Krishnaswami’s gorgeous strings on Lullabye, and Michael Digidio’s smoky sax curling its way around And So Much
More and I’ll Forget you. So, if you’re in the mood for bombast, posturing and fakey hip, look elsewhere...
you’re looking to be gently invited into a place where sadness and loss are looked straight in the face and overcome,
and where optimism and hope are earned honestly and seem unfashionably non-icky, then pick up on Unconditional. You heard
it here first.