Music Reviews for “What I Wouldn’t Give” by Jennifer Layton of

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This is one of those rare CDs that makes me wonder what the heck the artist needs for. Todd Herzog should be staggering home from the Grammys with an armload of awards, trying to hail a cab while fighting off major label executives who are waving contracts in his face.

I had put off listening to this because I wanted to make sure I was in a positive frame of mind. After reading the press materials, I expected this music to be gloomy and depressing. Most of the songs on What I Wouldn’t Give are Herzog’s way of working through the grief of losing his girlfriend Rachel to leukemia.

But what I heard when I popped in the CD took me by surprise. A full, warm, uptempo adult contemporary sound burst out of my speakers with a strong, passionate vocal that hit high notes beautifully. Herzog may be mourning death, but his voice and music are full of life.

What also helps is that not all of these songs are about Rachel. “I Guess It Should Rain” is the clever use of a rainstorm to symbolize a desperately-needed argument in a relationship. Instead of trying to avoid the fight, he wants to bring it on so they can move past it:

I don’t think that I can sleep at all tonight.
And if it takes a storm
to wash away the lies that came before,
And if water’s what it takes to ease this pain,
Then I guess it should rain.

“Anesthesia” also takes a creative turn, naming an ex-lover after the numbing coldness with which she treated him. “Waterfall,” inspired by a cloud formation in New Mexico, describes being swept up in the current of falling in love. You can’t fight something like that. Scary or not, you have to go with the flow.

But I keep coming back to the songs about Rachel, touched by the strength in the face of such pain. Herzog was only 26 when Rachel began losing her battle with the disease, and by his own admission, he had never faced real hardship before. Yet he was able to find some kind of wisdom in his soul to write her an encouragement song called “Listen Close.”

Don’t accept that what is now will always be.
Just because you wear those chains
doesn’t mean you won’t be free.
To walk along in the sun again
Free of all the things that used to hold you down,
Listen close to the whispers,
They will help you to remember
Who you are and who you came here to be.

I love the powerful rock sound in this song, standing up to the physical weakness caused by the disease.

I fought back tears a few times, but this is not a depressing CD. It’s a triumph of faith over fear. Herzog reminds me of two other artists I’ve written about, Kyler England and Corrinne May, who also worked through the loss of loved ones by creating music about it and emerged with beautiful works of art. (In fact, Corrinne May contributed background vocals to Herzog’s CD and co-wrote the track “Long Lost Lullabye.”)

Whether you’ve experienced this kind of pain or not, What I Wouldn’t Give is a spiritual gift of music. Something this beautiful makes me believe that faith and hope are worth hanging onto.

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