An achingly poignant lyric that (sadly) still holds true today, By My Silence essentially details how it’s wholly possible to be complicit in awful (or just unfair) things coming to pass by remaining fearful, passive and silent about them. Written to detail the atrocities that grew from the Holocaust, it’s an episodic lyric that explores how a society was taken apart one group at a time. It’s obviously applicable to many of the oppressive regimes and behaviours that still exist today.
Musically, this is not a call to arms, it’s a reasonable, and beautifully sung (with some warming backing vocals) treatise on considering what’s possible via inactivity or disengagement. The blend of voices on the track put me in mind of the vocal arrangements of 70s Joni Mitchell – a very good thing.
Mara’s voice is eloquent, with a sweet and rapid vibrato, and details the events within the narrative with clarity and an unhurried demeanour – tastefully holding onto notes at critical points – which relaxes the listener. This means that the political (with a small ‘p’) message seeps into the awareness very gently. But crucially, it gets in.
The folk guitar work throughout is as bright as a button, with fingers fluttering over the strings in background arpeggios while brighter strums point rhythms and lines of melody on top. They are very well mixed with the vocals, providing support and also using rhythm to augment and answer certain vocal melodic lines.
The song, written by Ellen Bukstel and Nick Annis, has won several songwriting awards in its history, and Mara Levine’s version means it’s deserving of a fresh appraisal in 2019. It’s a lovely version of a melancholy-drenched tune.