The Tsur Project presents the artistic work of songwriter Rafael Tsur, and Once Upon a Love is an incredibly passionate and heartfelt collection of songs that utilise raw musicality, writing and performance, to underline the real-life experiences of the story-teller in a beautifully honest manner.
Virgin Mary is the opener, a song that works beautifully from the offset for its delicacy and purity, but that evolves to become something much more intense and hard-hitting – beautiful in a whole host of other ways. The real heart and grit of the album begins to show itself.
Along with entrancing and frankly stunning performances put in throughout, the songwriting is second to none, and the acoustic guitar work reflects and enhances the growing emotions of each piece in a perfectly fitting way. The Old Yellow Love Book is a gorgeous song, a duet with a superb melody-line and some wonderfully poetic scene-setting. This is something like Paul Simon fused with Damien Rice, refreshingly skillful and open, not faked or forced just real and powerful for what it is. Tsur’s voice is naturally remarkable and endlessly captivating.
Elsewhere on the project, the set-up keeps the volume and mood floating along a fitting pathway, but energy-wise there’s a welcomed bit of eclecticism to keep things moving and to keep you involved. Express Train relevantly picks up the pace a little but is no less interesting and enchanting – far from it. The lyrics consistently provoke thought and feel freshly intelligent and reflective.
The story-telling on this album is brilliant, every song offers poetry and detail and sets the scene with such visual strength. Jolly Roger marks a fine example and the melody veers off in an unexpectedly folk-meets-indie-rock direction. Goodbye follows with compelling harmonies and distinct, difficult memories that provoke a genuine connection and prove to be truly heartbreaking. Whatever this is that The Tsur Project does, it does so in a way that draws you right into the moment in a raw and unapologetically truthful way. You only have to listen to one song to feel the energy and authenticity, and know that it means something worthwhile.
I wanted to hug you but you could not stay, you were always here and always away…
There’s something beautifully new about all of this, but there are also a few welcomed incidents of nostalgia that effectively increase that inherent, comforting connection. The vocals and the story-telling reminded me slightly of Half Moon Run, the writing and expressive performances that are so rare and so magical to witness. You can lose yourself in this album for the better, perhaps returning to life in tears but undoubtedly having been through something that dug up those buried feelings and left you feeling refreshed and understood.
Through Ashes and Hair to Broken Wing, the pace varies – the melancholy moves into the mildly upbeat – and the lyrics pour so many ideas and scenes into a fairly minimalist musical environment. The songs feel much bigger than they ought to, the effect is mighty thanks to natural, genuine writing and performances. Charlize follows and goes exactly where most of us probably expect – it’s a name that conjures up thoughts of a certain celebrity, and this song takes a turn for the more light-hearted and upbeat, colourful and unexpectedly laid back at this point.
Gabrielle keeps that gentle, joyful mood alive – the French language and the rhythmic guitar create a blissfully exotic aura. The project veers off in a new direction in this last third. Big Brother appears with closer personal truth and is driven by a piano, varying the set-up just slightly and creating a more indie-pop ballad of sorts. The lyrics, as is the case elsewhere, are worth experiencing more than just once – to make sure it all gets through.
Things come to a close with Mysterious Woman. The mood remains hopeful, instrumentally, and the melody brings a final flicker of soul-pop that ends the journey with style and confidence – I was reminded a little of the Donnie Darko soundtrack.
Those first-half songs are almost unbearably heartbreaking, but also addictively stunning. The balance is well captured in hindsight, and the album in full makes for a wonderful, timeless listening session that can easily be revisited again and again.