Mary Bichner and Eliza Kopczynska of Box Five (photo by  Justin Moore)

Mary Bichner and Eliza Kopczynska of Box Five (photo by Justin Moore)

It’s understandable that Mary Bichner of Box Five dreamt of one day being accompanied by a full orchestra. Her extraordinary, classically-informed vocals make her sound as though she’s been plucked from a Victorian salon. It’s amazing that Leave The Earth Behind is her debut full-length album, as its virtuosic performances, multi-textured complexity and overall cohesiveness would suggest otherwise.

A little background… As stated on her myspace, Ms. Bichner “hears color and sees sound. Wait, what?” The condition is known as synesthesia, though “condition” suggests an ailment, and in Mary’s case, it’s a blessing. Her ability to see specific colors when hearing corresponding pitches adds a touch of magic to her creativity, which is evident in the way her voice supernaturally glides and soars. Joining her on this recording is a mind-boggling ensemble of gifted musicians with impressive resumes. At the forefront is violinist Eliza Kopczynska, who has performed with such diverse artists as Josh Groban, Mark Wood, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, and various orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout Europe and the U.S. She adds a huge helping of dazzling violin to the proceedings; at times mournful and solitary,then wildly festive and celebratory. Quite an amazing emotional range to match Mary’s equally far-reaching vocals.

The CD includes brief, funny and quite accurate descriptions of each song. There’s a “punk song,” a “sea shanty,” a “carefree 60-s era beach party,” an “art song,” a “sexy spy movie soundtrack”… all pointing to a wide variety of moods and shifting passions. The first, “My Hands Gave Way” is “the ‘somber girl at the piano song”. It’s brief, just a few verses, but wow, does it usher in a mood – powerful and, yes, somber, with the lyrics “what was I thinking, relinquishing the reins, the world’s gone up in flames, and I am to blame.” Very beautiful. Following it is “Thinking Out Loud” which is anything but somber. Wildly rambunctious with Ms. Kopczynska’s madly galloping violin.

While a more traditional rock song like “Set Me Straight” work equally well, it’s the grandly sweeping ones such as “Thinking Out Loud” and “How Should I Your True Love Know” (with lyrics extracted from Hamlet) that highlight Mary’s highly theatrical vocal delivery that one can envision in a fancy concert hall.

“Scylla and Charibdys” nicely highlights Mary’s considerable vocal range and the lushness of her hand-picked orchestra (they recorded it in sections, in her living room), and “Ceasefire” – one of my personal favorites – is melancholy and deeply soulful (“say you are sorry, and I will cease fire”). It begins with just piano, and then the strings come in, with lovely interplay of vocals and violins. A somber, gothic beauty.

“Ceasefire” and “Set Me Straight” (another favorite, with its acoustic guitar and cello centerpiece) are somewhat quieter, nicely setting off the more lavish numbers, and providing the album with a perfect balance of opulence and intimacy.

“How Should I Your True Love Know” (the “art” song) is appropriately plucky and waltzy with a true Victorian flair, and the album finishes with the crazy “Today Is The Day”, with its lively gypsy-Balkan-Yiddish wedding groove.

An ambitious effort, beautifully executed, and one that entrenches itself with repeated listens.

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