Mila Drumke
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Mila Drumke

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"One of the Most Impressive Records of the Year"

"Look how everything is changing, changing where you are," sings New York-based songwriter Mila Drumke on her ambitious, magnanimous and riveting fourth recording. We're five years on from her last release, 2000's Hip to Hip, a coolly-ahead-of-its-time reinvention of jazz standards and, yes, everything's different now. While all the traits which captivated Mila's admirers late in the last millennium are still in abundance—the dynamic, supple compositions which nod to jazz and folk without really being either, the velveteen vocals, the oblique yet vivid lyrics—no one could have anticipated an album quite so keenly felt, so moving and yet so scrupulously arranged and played as Radiate has turned out to be.

How we live and how we die are not always so very different, and one of the great things about art is the way it allows us to resequence events, to return to happier times cut short, to let before and after coexist in order to understand both a little better. This is something Drumke does triumphantly in focusing Radiate almost exclusively on the last few months in the life of her ailing sister, and documenting the time the pair spent in San Francisco as her illness worsened and the inevitable slid into view. This is ambitious stuff for a whole album, with little precedent in the singer-songwriter world beyond such classic meditations on mortality as Kate Bush's The Red Shoes (Drumke has covered Bush before, to spectacular effect) and REM's Automatic for the People. Perhaps a closer kinship can be found between the pages of the personal memoir: Blake Morrison, Sue Miller and Isabel Allende, for example, would all recognise how Mila has re-tuned jangling nerves into eager, gorgeous melodies, how she has filled the hollows of loss with a cascading burst of sound and sense. And while these ten songs inevitably have heartbreak at the core, they are buffeted by a natural kindness and grace which transcends specifics, letting Radiate bury itself in the hearts of anyone with an understanding of loss, no matter what the circumstances.

This is an album full of memories; it's far more about endurance, of a kind, than it is about death. And it's particularly concerned with the potency of random recollections and juxtaposed timelines, which find their musical equivalent in the brilliant, high-contrast instrumentation. Toy piano, harmonium, and banjo flesh out Drumke's taut and always-reliable core band, but the eclecticism is never forced, and instead conjures a mood of the best of current auteur-songwriters like Sufjan Stevens and Laura Veirs. No one could have imagined that a banjo, for instance, could sound as moody and urgent as it does here on the spooky love song "Nothing's Gonna Bring the Sun Down." But if Drumke's songs are written and arranged by the head, they are sung straight from the heart in honeyed and enveloping tones which boast a warmth rarely found among art-rock or singer-songwriter types; a voice full of wisdom and power, with a timelessness one associates more with, say, kd lang, or even the classic interpretive singers.

Much of Radiate is set in San Francisco, where sister Danielle lived and died, and perhaps it's just coincidence or something more mystical that there are hints of other Bay Area visionaries in here somewhere: the oblique psychology and painterly layering of Hannah Marcus (in her more dreamlike moments), for instance, or the midnight clarity of Alison Faith Levy. And the musical catholicism and lyrical full-heartedness of Mark Kozelek is close at hand, too: Drumke's songs "Days Go By" (with its carefully interlaced instrumentation in which Lyris Hung's violin manages to sound crushed and consoling at the same time) and "California" chime with the finer moments of vintage Red House Painters. Further afield, the title track has enough snaking twists and sultry vocals to give Lizz Wright a run for her money, while "My Big Holiday," in which Mila puts Danielle's thoughts in song to recount a trip-of-a-lifetime to New Zealand, has the lovely light and shade of Sarah Harmer; the clinking toy piano picking out points of light on the ocean.

All this scattershot namedropping only shows up the inadequacy of the references. For most of the time, Radiate doesn't really sound like anyone else. The arrangements throughout are fearsomely imaginative: just listen to how "Cliff House" counters the end-of-the-pier unease of its verses with a sunlit bridge section in which the instrumentation changes completely to become something anchored and hopeful. The sounds themselves carry the album's themes, detailing the contrasting emotions which jostle during any family crisis (the moodswings, the up-and-down-ness of it all, the understanding that even the very worst of times contains good days and bad days).

Lyrically, Radiate is always alert, always sensorially and temporally acute. In fact, it could hardly be more alive, full as it is of shafts of blue light, sounds from across the hall, - Hearsay magazine

"In Your Ear"

Mila Drumke immediately tweaks the music gods imbedded deep in your marrow. Drumke is a little-known but incredibly talented artist whom half of you wants to tell the world about so she can immediately capture fame, fortune and fans, while the other half conspires to keep a secret so you can share her with only your best and most music-loving friends. - Independent Film Channel


Illinois is New York City songwiter Mila Drumke's second effort (her first was an EP, also self-released, from late '94), but its enchanting 11 songs suggest an artist not only far more seasoned than her prior release would suggest, but one that seems to be quickly and steadily approaching her prime. Although Drumke treads somewhat familiar ground—her songs are melodic and often folky, and her velvety singing soaks up the spotlight—both her band and her songs reveal an artist who stretches beyond the boundaries, both in terms of her hypnotic songwriting style and in the instrumentation she chooses. She tends to lay her chord progressions like a blanket, while bending her voice and words in oddly-shaped melodies that gently press her lyrics into the band's playing. Her band consists of drums, bass guitar and her lead guitar playing, but it also includes some piano and a full-time violinist, whose sorrowful lines subtly weave in and out of the songs, but stop short of giving the songs a stylistic coloring that would betray Drumke's unusual urban roots style. Illinois comes highly recommended—we'd suggest "Constance," "Time That We Spent," "Hip to Hip" and "The Irish Sea" in particular.

- College Music Journal

"Illinois: Review"

Mila Drumke is a guitarist-songwriter-chanteuse who transfixes audiences as she transcends musical boundaries. She accomplishes this by taking chances, stretching her smoky voice and pushing her four-piece band so that together they do more than just play a collection of chord changes and tempos in a given piece--they evoke shifting moods and emotions.

In "Constance," from the album Illinois, Drumke & Co. document a failing relationship, with each part—be it a descending bass line, a churning violin solo or a hypnotic drumbeat—recounting the story of a man who "comes home today/We expect he won't stay." But it is Drumke's voice that says the most, sometimes without words. Her controlled and beautiful wails and moans convey frustration and acceptance, while avoiding the convenience of caterwauling; her hurt is not just heard but believed.

Drumke's singing ranges from earthy to ethereal and recalls the emotional edge of k.d. lang, Annie Lennox and Kate Bush. Indeed, Drumke displays her strength and originality with her haunting version of Bush's "Under the Ivy"; like all the best covers, Drumke makes it her own.

Drumke and her bandmates are equally at ease with country waltzes, bossa nova excursions and rousing all-out rockers. And while the CDs Drumke has released on her Little Pro label—1994's Gathering My Name and last year's Illinois—emphasize the echoey, atmospherics a recording studio affords, in concert she opts to recognize the rawness in her music; roughed-up guitars and delicate melodies mingle effortlessly, making for impressive introspective pop. - Time Out New York

"Hip to Hip: Review"

The third album from Mila Drumke's in-house recording enterprise finds her living the lush life and choosing to follow up the unique and astounding Illinois album with a playful selection of standards and gems. The timing is perfect. Jazz vocal seems to be enjoying a resurgence of interest of late; if it's not exactly a mass market, the unflappably cool record buyers have a variety of new talents (and old songs) to savour. It's cheering to witness the success of bright young things Lisa Ekdahl, Katharine Whalen and Stacey Kent. Meanwhile all sorts of exhilarating old-new fusions can be found on recent albums like last year's Red Hot and Rhapsody (a magnificent tribute to George and Ira Gershwin) and Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil (a riotously curated homage to Johnny Mercer), both of which I unreservedly recommend if you like this kind of thing.

Drumke's release fits happily alongside those in the way it so meticulously balances respectfulness with revisionism. Her rich and insistent voice (perhaps how Paula Cole might sound if she had a sense of humour?) is a velvet-padded box in which these gems sit perfectly. The arrangements are respectful, sometimes modernist but never unnecessarily ironic. For every song performed in Eastman Color, there's another delivered in crisp black and white. There are quite a lot of players and singers lining up on here but the sound is never over-egged: Drumke understands how much these songs demand a core band so Adam Ben-David's effusive piano, Mat Fieldes's assertive double bass and Charlie Porter's sashaying trumpet are usually what one registers most.

Like Kate Bush and Jane Siberry, Drumke produces her own records and does so with such vision and brio that even if the decision is based in economics, it's hard to believe T-Bone Burnett or Larry Klein could have done a better job. Moreover, it's probably hard to go wrong with songs like these. I mean, everyone likes this kind of music, don't they? You'd have to be emotionally and musically illiterate not to have all these tunes and their sentiments already inscribed in your brain somewhere.

A cursory scan through the track listing reveals nothing obscure here - Drumke's selections are all known universally, much like the emotions they convey for that matter. Take the deadly serious reading of "How Deep Is The Ocean," for instance, probably the standout track in a superior selection. The almost unbearably candid melody takes second-place to the words which are delivered with the solemnity of marriage vows and the deep rhetoric of Renaissance-era wisdom in which each question is answered with another. "How many times a day do I think of you? How many roses are sprinkled with dew? How far would I travel to be where you are? How near is the journey from here to a star?" If you can't identify with that from personal experience, you probably just wish you could.

The lyrics to all these songs are a constant delight (as you'd expect with gentlemen like Lorenz Hart and Ira Gershwin on the case). No one would dare write lines like "When you kissed me I felt the season turn from winter to spring" these days and our world is poorer for it. Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine," which staggers to the fore, propped up by wearied bass is very Weimar Republic (that song can't be done any other way, can it?), not to mention very "Strange Weather." "Moonglow" by contrast is blithe and percussive. Meanwhile the optimism at the heart of "Someone To Watch Over Me" is kept afloat by some languorous, cushioned arrangements. I note with amusement that Mila ducks right out of the convoluted "man some/ handsome" couplet which has defeated numerous singers since 1926!

Later, hearing Drumke 'do' "Cheek To Cheek," I'm struck suddenly by what a challenge it must be to the performer to make these songs new. If every new piece of literature subconsciously addresses all that's ever been written before and every painting includes inflections of all previous artistic movements (as some critics have argued) then you can apply that to interpretative singing, too. Every version of "Cheek To Cheek" contains traces of all the recordings which predate it; everybody will have particular memories triggered. For some it will be Astaire, for others Fitzgerald. When hearing a contemporary reworking, the listener is initially as aware of who isn't singing as who is! It takes unflinching conviction to lay claim to a song like this, and when Drumke slips in a scrawly, low-fi bridge section in the midst of an otherwise respectful arrangement we know we're listening to someone in complete control of her talents.

Several of the tracks here are duets and the cheeky interplay of voices mirrors the songs' wit. In fact the set kicks off with an inspired conjunction of "Until I Met You" (sung by Mila) with "Satin Doll" (sung by Jake Stigers), not so much a medley as a symbiotic melody in the best tradition of jazz sampling. Meanwhile, the fusion of - Hearsay magazine

"Illinois: Review"

Illinois is Mila Drumke's second album and is available from her directly-ish. If you'll forgive me the usual indulgence: delicious packaging this has...the cameo photos of instruments and people are a definite bonus. The music is absolutely not secondary--the music, now that I mention it, is unique and fabulously rich in variety. "Super 8" is the gentlest of starts, acoustic with childhood and understatedly cool. Drumke's voice lies somewhere between a guilty Joni Mitchell and a pissed-off Natalie Merchant, which is a very effective place to be coming from. If you like both of those I'm sure you'll go a bundle on this—It's a very arresting record.

The knowingness of the acoustic opener is proved when the next track, "Constance," moves up a gear, introducing a skipping 12/8 beat that's prevalent throughout the record. It's profoundly reminiscent of the Jeff Buckly album Grace, with which it also has in common a bright, hard guitar sound. The lyrics echo both the brightness and the hardness: "No one comes around here and no one calls." The drums and bass swing with a deeply jazzy undercurrent.

"Time That We Spent" keeps the jazzy feel going, the loose beat overridden with fiddle, and here and there are touches of trumpet. The lyric is splendidly open-ended: "If anything about the situation seems less sincere than I planned, well hey..." At the end of the song, someone turns the radio on in the background, and what we hear coming out of it is some anonymous burst of French radio, short wave. (A few weeks ago, when it was still sunny, I was driving into Brighton listening to this; when the tape ran out, I sat in a queue of traffic idly fingering the tuning dial and found a French radio phone-in show that a woman had called to say she'd been having relations with her brother-in-law in a public toilet at a train station and there had been a bomb alert. I'll leave you to fill in the rest, but I just thought I'd let you know the power of French radio. It's surely one up on Jerry Springer.)

"World Away" begins with a swelling voice and a bucklingly tense groove. "You can have the whole West Coast and the treeline/Where I'm standing the sky is almost blue/but you can have that too." It's blessed with a wonderfully harsh switch between verse and chorus; the fracture is breathtakingly effective. It's one of those you-have-to-be-there things, I'm afraid. I can't justify it here. Drumke growls and soars to the limits of her vocal range to accommodate the schizophrenia.

"Last Light" is chillingly cool in many senses, swaying side to side with the gap between two people separated by more than just distance and climate. "Where I am the ice melts so slowly/the cars all spin their wheel in the street light, slip backwards on the pavement." Motorboat features Mr. and Mrs. Peris from the Innocence Mission and rings once again with nostalgia and movement: "...the place we've come from looks so small from the boat..." "The Irish Sea" is a slightly absentminded sway; as begins to feel like a thread of the record, it's somewhat elsewhere: "Now our cups are etched and shining, filled with tea sent to us in foreign parcels."

"Hip to Hip" is my personal favourite, an irresistibly moving bossa with gloriously dissonant guitar chords holding together an ear-warmingly great band sound. Whatever you hear this year, hear this song! The lyrics are entrancingly sulky: "If I'm mean, then you're proud and the music was bad and blaringly loud." "Tournesol" is static with piano and bowed strings, lush with more nostalgia. "Little Pro" is profoundly loose and again irresistibly hipswinging stuff. It turns out to be a high point of the album for reasons more alchemical than explicable; again it's about the feel of things. An entrancing fiddle solo and be-tremolo-ed vocals are followed by a coda uplifted by extravagant and supremely wigged-out drumming. It seems so effortless.

Closing track "Under the Ivy" comes from the pen of Kate Bush. It's a belter! Just the sort of thing you'd have as an encore, which makes me think the whole album does seem to be arranged as a set. If this is deliberate, I take my hat off to whomever thought of it. If not, it just goes to show what good sense the songs make together. It's uncommonly lucid and fluent music. I urge you to seek this out.

by Pete Pawsey - Hearsay magazine


Radiate (2006, Little Pro)
Hip to Hip: A Collection of Standards (2000, Little Pro)
Hearsay Compilation I (1999 Hearsay-UK import)
In Your Ear: Volume I (1998, IMI Trax/Hybrid)
Illinois (1997, Little Pro)
Gathering My Name (1994, Little Pro)



Mila's first album, Gathering My Name (1994) featured “Someone,” which Mila wrote and recorded as the theme for the Samuel Goldwyn cult film, Go Fish. “Someone” is also featured on the Independent Film Channel compilation, In Your Ear (1999), which includes songs by Tom Waits and The Pogues.

Illinois (1997) attracted the attention of New York Magazine (“Deserves national recognition”), CMJ (“an artist who stretches beyond the boundaries...highly recommended”), the BBC and Time Out London among others. The album, which includes performances by Karen and Don Peris of The Innocence Mission, was featured in listening booths at Tower Records, Hear Music and HMV. With the release of Illinois, Mila was invited to participate in Rita Houston's prominent Required Listening Series at the Bottom Line in New York.

Hip to Hip: A Collection of Standards (2000) received praise from publications including The New York Times (“Drumke tackles standards with reverence, but also finds ways to inflect the music with her own pop-sophisticate style”) and Hearsay magazine (“...inspired/vaporizes generation gaps and fills the heart with its generosity”). Hip to Hip was also featured in listening booths at Tower Records and Hear Music, and received avid support from Vin Scelsa at WFMU.

Radiate (2006 Little Pro) was written and recorded over two and a half years in houses and studios along the East Coast. The album is an examination of the way in which the world comes into sharp focus as we begin the process of leaving it. “In taking unimaginable sadness and turning it into something both grounded and visionary, Mila has created a deeply humane song cycle; one which leaves us convinced that the “the late day sunlight will win out again.” And “...while these songs inevitably have heartbreak at the core, they are buffeted by a natural kindness and grace which transcends specifics, letting Radiate bury itself in the hearts of anyone with an understanding of loss, no matter what the circumstances.” —Hearsay magazine. WFUV's Vin Scelsa voted Radiate one of the top 10 finds of 2006.

Mila performs with her band throughout the U.S. and appears regularly in New York City at Joe's Pub, the Bowery Ballroom and the Living Room.

Mila Drumke titles are available at,,, iTunes and at select stores nationwide.