Early in Twelfth Night, the heroine Viola tells an aide, “Conceal me what I am,” before embarking on a cross-dressing double-life that drives the play’s focus on identity and duality. That line serves as a good motto for the Rats & People crew as well — while the band has its hallmarks (muted brass, florid string work, spare percussion), the players tend to melt into its chosen iteration in service of the project. So for Revue Songs, the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra recorded six songs taken from the poems of American poet Wallace Stevens. The suite was originally performed last September at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, and to bring these poems to life, R&PMPO enlisted the high, operatic vocals of Natalie Huggins and the cello of Liz Myers, both of the chamber-pop band Wax Wine.
Stevens is both an engrossing and confounding poet, but for all of his wonderful abstrusities, he makes an ideal candidate for translation into song: His verses keep a pretty strict metrical rhythm, and his word choice, while obtuse in place, is always mellifluous. Wrapping your mouth around words like “concupiscence” (a holy yearning) or “somnolent” (drowsy) or “flagellants” (a practitioner of religious self-mortification) is a big part of the fun with reading Stevens’ work aloud, and that goes double for putting those words into song. Huggins is a solid interpreter of the text, and the Rats & People crew has taken care with the arrangements — a considerable feat for a band whose very genesis was the belief in the ability for music to take the place of words.