Though Leni Stern's previous recordings have been pointing toward a stylistic leap, from award-winning fusion jazz guitarist to contemporary singer-songwriter, "Kindness of Strangers" still comes as something of a revelation. As accomplished as it is accessible, Stern's latest CD suggests that she's finally found her true voice in the studio - writing, arranging and performing original material.
Beginning with the dreamy ballad "I Call You," Stern creates a series of evocative soundscapes that compliment her fragile but soulful voice and subtly integrate her guitar skills. Her keen pop instincts are readily apparent throughout the album, to the extent that some of the tunes, including "Rescue My Heart" and the title track, wouldn't sound out of place on a Paul Simon album. Yet the combination of Stern's wistful voice, smart lyrics and orchestral designs are distinctive enough to make comparisons pointless. While fans of Stern's more subdued guitar work won't be disappointed with the gentle lyricism she conjures on the touchy "You Won't Forget Me" and other tracks, the emphasis here is on textured arrangements, not six-string artistry. By the time Stern finishes unveiling the Cd's most ambitious and moving piece, "Vedo Il Tuo Viso (I See Your Face)," a nearly 20-minute orchestral suite commemorating a terrorist attack in Italy, her multifaceted talent is shining in ways it never has before.