One Track Mind: Jeremy Schonfeld, "Yet" (2011)

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At its core, Jeremy Schonfeld’s new Iron and Coal is the singer-songwriter’s devastatingly effective memorial to his late father and the millions of Jews who suffered and died under the brutal Nazi regime in World War II-era Germany. But as the songs, very much in the enveloping style of 1970s-era Elton John, carefully drill down into the roiling emotions associated with crushing loss, and of brave sacrifice, and of lasting love, and of letting go, Schonfield successfully builds an album-length message that connects across a much broader spectrum.

Perhaps the best example can be found on “Yet,” which tries to sort through the experience from afar, brilliantly delineating the problems later generations might have in wrestling with their place in this historical tapestry. At the same time, though, the core theme here couldn’t be more universal: Who hasn’t struggled with maturing into a deeper, adult understanding of what came before?

“I will endure,” Schonfeld sings, with a trembling strength over a percussive marching-band beat, “until I learn what I’ve been taught.” He’s not simply attempting to come to grips with that process — but to embrace the journey of it.

As the song builds behind him, Schonfeld’s quiet persistence becomes more direct, more precise — just as a crisp, Beatlesque trumpet curls around his voice. “When I get lost, when I get upset, help me remember so I never forget,” Schonfeld sings, and it resonates well outside of the mid-century context: These lessons, he seems to be saying, are not things we must simply endure, something to get past and forget, but instead are the connective moments that make up a life.

By the end of “Yet,” Schonfeld sounds as if he’s not only come to grips with the horrific circumstances surrounding the long-ago Holocaust — but also to have found a newfound focus: Our pasts define us, but they do not have to confine us.

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Jeremy Schonfeld’s Iron and Coal was produced by Werner Stranka and Martin Gellner for Beat 4 feet Productions. Recorded in Vienna, Austria, Schonfeld — a child and grandchild of Holocaust survivors — was completing the mastering of this project when his father passed away at the age of 77.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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