By Peggy Ratusz
This is the message Paula Hanke conveys with elegance and deliberate conviction on her CD of the same name, “The Only Voice.” This debut release is from a maven whose music and performing arts career spans more than thirty years. It’s a collection of seven message songs, recorded locally at Sound Temple Studios, owned and engineered by Robert George; mastered by Michael Hynes from Nomadic Studios. The result is an inspiring junket you’ll want to take again and again.
(Photo by Beth Dyer Photography)
The opening cut invites the listener to “walk with” her “in love.” And you’ll take that first step willingly alright. Gregg Levoy aptly sustains a steady finger snap starting in the second stanza and the cool, smooth bass by Grammy recipient, Eliot Wadopian does his stellar part, while Paula’s silky slow burn into gradual guttural grit by the end of the track will convince you that it’s a walk worth taking.
The second tune on her upcoming release adds tasteful drums by Justin Watt and is a romantic tale written by Paula called “Columbus Street” about first-time lovers who run into each other by accident after twenty years. And while the lyrics explain the chance meeting, it’s left up to the listener to decide what the couple will do. Will they explore the possibilities and dance with destiny? Will you?
The third offering on the album is an aching, honest, hope-filled sojourn into the deepest part of her, a song she calls “Home.” Inspired by her mindfulness meditation practice, she speaks to the journey of moving from worry and fear to calm and centeredness. It’s her simple and deep truth sung with powerfully emotive vocal swells and lifts, lilting piano, and affectionate violin played by Amy Lovinger. This duet literally unburdens the listener.
“Unwritten” is a Natasha Bedingfield song she covers on #4 and is a song that validates and illuminates. The dynamics are all there in this instrumentally scaled down, but highly energizing rendition. It is with great abandon that she calls out and harmonizes perfectly with herself: “release your inhibitions; feel the rain on your skin, no one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in… live your life wide open!”
The fifth song is another duet with Paula on piano and supremely gifted cellist, Ron Clearfield. It’s a stunning original called “Unanswered Prayer.” Glean what you will from this gem but for me, it’s a don’t-forget-about-me letter to the spirit within. The manner in which she delivers the phrases is a cathartic wave of emotion and the texture of her voice comes from her aching heart in one line, and is followed by soft humility and hopefulness from her soul in the next.
Second to last on the CD is Beth Nielsen Chapman’s “Free” which starts with a syncopated groove that continues throughout where percussion is in the capable hands of River Guerguerian and acoustic rhythm and lead guitar handled by a master, Chris Rosser. You’ll find yourself bobbing your head, tapping your foot to the beat as she takes a stand to cut the chains and break free. She’s setting us up for the last track, The Only Voice.
“The Only Voice” is a message song of empowerment and redemption. Like the opening song on the record, it has a Gospel/Bluesy vibe complete with organ and tenor sax comps and solo played by the extremely gifted Jacob Rodriguez of Michael Buble’s band. But aside from a little piano and Paula’s astounding peaks and valleys vocally, that’s all you’ll get instrumentally and that’s all you’ll need to come into your own.
The entire collection is scaled down. Producer and engineer, Robert George says this: “The EP is intentionally under-produced with no more than three musicians accompanying Paula on each track and in some cases just one.”
The choices Paula has made throughout her career have been, by and large, the right moves at the right time. Beginning at the age of 10 she spent nine intense years studying classical piano and “loved every minute of it.” Like so many artists, she honed her vocal skills in church choir, in school chorus, high school musicals. Born and raised in the heart of America’s dairy land, Kiel, Wisconsin, (population 3000) she was a senior in high school when she was awarded a position in a 24-member music troupe called… wait for it….wait for it…
The Kids From Wisconsin! It was “boot camp training for performance!” she exclaims. “Literally, we were up at 6:30am, were required to jog around a track, then it was breakfast in the mess hall, after that it was choreography until lunch time and after lunch it was choral rehearsal until dinner and after dinner, we re-rehearsed what we’d learned that day until we fell into bed, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again.” “Was it all fun?” I ask her. “It was a blast!” she most assuredly replies.
The Kids From Wisconsin to the Kids of the Kingdom to Martin Sheen:
She auditioned and was plucked from thousands to join The Kids of the Kingdom, a Disney World Orlando song and dance company made up of 12 girls and 12 boys who entertained in front of Cinderella’s castle. With this came her first plane ride, her first apartment and her first real job! After a year’s contract, she went on to star in dinner theatres across Florida and hob-knobbed with people like Charles Nelson Riley, Burt Reynolds and one New Year’s Eve was even kissed at midnight by none other than Martin Sheen!
Destiny was making time with Paula Hanke when she turned 21 and found herself wondering what to do next. A friend saw an ad in an Orlando, Florida paper announcing auditions for a vocalist in a show band. Determined and assured, she hopped in her car and drove all night from Orlando to reach a Ramada Inn in Darien, Georgia where the band was doing a six-night stint and holding auditions. Giddy from witnessing the band’s show, she accepted the invitation to join them. For the next seven years she traveled coast to coast with the 80’s dance band called “Coast to Coast.”
While on the road, she auditioned for and was selected to sing on Star Search ‘88, the American Idol of its day, hosted by Johnny Carson’s famous sidekick Ed McMahon. It was, however, competitor Linda Eder’s year to find fame.
Paula came off the road and ended up moving to New York City to give it a go in the Big Apple, where she made a living singing in bands, on cruise ships, performing abroad in Japan, Germany and Saudi Arabia, and even enjoying a short romance with a short-lived record company. She calls that time in her life “mostly overwhelming” due to the fast pace, noise and general madness that is the city that never sleeps. Yearning to fill a void—the sense that her identity was so wrapped up in music that she felt empty when she wasn’t performing—she began to practice yoga and soon became a certified instructor, and also discovered and began practicing foot reflexology, Reiki, and Buddhist meditation.
After a short-term marriage, and feeling her creativity dimming in the bright lights of the big city, she decided to find a new place to rejuvenate and bloom. She placed all her belongings in storage so that she could freely jump in her car and take her time visiting places she’d never been. She rendered herself open to possibilities, and Asheville was on her itinerary. After a brief stay, she fell in love with the city, the mountains and the people.
A big part of Paula’s sense of community here revolves around Jubilee! on Wall Street, where, for the past five years, her voice has helped inspire the congregation as part of Jubilee’s World Beat Band. She says she’s “never felt so supported by any community before.” Mica White is one such jubilant and is a dear friend whom she credits on the liner notes for holding her accountable. Paula explains that “Mica is a deeply spiritual intuitive artist, poet, and improvisational story teller who’s generous and gentle support has been unyielding. Mica enjoys supporting her friends and though we both hold each other accountable for our art, she’s the big spark.”
Paula will be joined by Free Planet Radio, Eliot Wadopian on bass, Chris Rosser on guitar and piano, River Guerguerian on kit and percussion at The Only Voice release concert which will take place at 8pm on Friday, September 7th at Jubilee! 46 Wall Street. Other guest artists such as Tony Godwin, Amy LaDeroute, Linda Kendall Fields, Erin Klimstra and myself are scheduled to join in.
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Please do yourself a favor and purchase an advance ticket at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Jubilee! Sunday Services.
Contact Kachina Davine for more information at (828) 225-3232 or visit Paula’s website at paulahanke.com
Few match her integrity as a person. Few meet her abilities as a far-reaching messenger in song and spirit. Her hope is that the record will add a little beauty and uplift your day. I wholeheartedly believe that’s a given for all who subscribe to this inspiring accomplishment called “The Only Voice.”