I love musical projects which reach beyond the first listen, that want to make you go back and listen again ... to hear what you missed.
Lee Oskar has created such a project aptly named “Never Forget.”
And no one could forget Lee’s life story once they heard it. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. Lee’s grandmother was last seen downtrodden headed to the gas chamber, leaving behind two young women, Lee’s mother Rachel and his Aunt Judy trying to escape the frigid death march of January 1945.
Lee was basically an orphan, who ended up in Los Angeles, via New York, Canada and San Francisco. It was the late 1960s, he spoke broken English and his only friend was a harmonica. His good fortune was meeting Eric Burdon, an English singer-songwriter and actor.
You probably remember Eric as the vocalist of rhythm and blues and rock band the Animals or the funk band War.
I had the privilege to talk with Eric many moons ago, over the phone, when he first was going solo.
Eric and Lee teamed up with others to create the chart-topping War song, “Spill the Wine.” You can hear Lee’s harmonica on this psychedelic romp through dreamland.
Never Forget is a much more reflective piece of art, with memories like the fact - many on Lee’s mother’s side of the family were killed during the Holocaust.
Lee was left with pain, and a puzzle as to if he’d ever find a home, and I think he’s found that home in his heart and through his music.
On the song, “Song From Mom,” Lee starts out with a lone harmonica and gradually works in guitar, mandolin, bass, cello, viola and violin. It sounds like a dance, a slowed down jig, away from the tortures of life.
“This song is infused with my Mother’s spirit which enabled her to rise from the ashes of unspeakable horror and devastation, to live a life with dignity and integrity,” Lee said.
This is primarily an instrumental project where the tone is set by the music, and the instruments used.
This shines through on the title cut “Never Forget.” It’s a very poetic movement with the harmonica always setting the path.
“My mother was unable to verbalize the terrors she had endured. She vehemently countered propaganda that discounted, whitewashed, or denied the reality of the Holocaust the only way she could: by neurotically writing and rewriting the timeline of her experience on scraps of per,” Lee said. “Like messages in bottles, she was silently screaming her truth to those who disregard historical facts.”
It’s worth mentioning Lee has a business, Lee Oskar Harmonicas, with mouth harps which reflect the top-quality materials, construction, and design.
Never Forget is a surreal musical canvas which goes beyond the sound, the artwork, and the liner notes — it’s a sonic masterpiece.
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