JEFF LYNNE – Long Wave

One of two Jeff Lynne projects for 2012 (the other being a selection of re-recorded hits from Electric Light Orchestra), ‘Long Wave’ finds the sunglassed, curly haired Brummie paying tribute to those songs he heard on his fuzzy long-wave radio during his younger years.  Despite the age of the chosen songs and the home demo feel to the album, Lynne’s choice of material comes delivered exactly as you’d expect: multi-tracked and then topped off with that compressed drum sound (a la Traveling Wilburys), a sound that makes so much of his work so distinctive.

Lynne’s rummage through the catalogues of a pre-Beatle world results in somewhat of a mixed bag, but he really comes alive on ‘At Last’ – a much covered tune, but most famous in a version recorded by Etta James.  Synthesised string sounds (which surprisingly, do not sound too bad here) meet a stabbing piano in a way that only the period could muster, and even with Lynne’s more modern shine – and the fact that he’s not quite as gifted vocally as some who’ve tackled this tune previously – the power of the song comes through in spades.  Lynne’s noodling, jazzy guitar tones are also a nice touch, of which, perhaps more could have been made.  Against the odds, ‘Beyond The Sea’ also comes out rather well, with sharp, multi-tracked electric guitars replacing the strings to great effect.  Those guitars are a gentle reminder of just one of the many things that made ELO’s best work so enjoyable.  To be honest, ‘Long Wave’ could have used a few more of them… Likewise, the album’s lead single, ‘Mercy, Mercy’, while not presenting anything out of the ordinary for Jeff, comes across with sparkle and it’s obvious he loves this song.  In fact, with its gated snare drum and spirited vocal, it wouldn’t have been out of place on his ‘Armchair Theatre’ disc.

On the surface, Roy Orbison’s ‘Running Scared’ gets a respectful reworking, with Jeff’s vocal still allowing the listener to imagine The Big O crooning his way distinctively through each line.  While Lynne’s voice is perfectly good and stabbed piano and acoustic guitars evoke Orbison’s favoured musical arrangement, a closer listen uncovers something of a disappointment – it’s a pity Lynne didn’t splash out on a full string section as warranted.  His choice of synthesised strings (on this track and a couple of others) just pushes things too far into the realms of “polished home demo”.   Many would suspect that Chuck Berry’s ‘Let It Rock’ would be one of ‘Long Wave’s highlights – and in many ways they’re not wrong, since Lynne’s rock ‘n’ roll influenced numbers were always decent in the past.  As good as his take on Chuck is, though, there’s a sense of the over-familiar and as a result, it lacks the overall enjoyment of Lynne’s own works within that field, whether that be The Wilburys’ ‘Rattled’ or ELO’s ‘Hold On Tight’ et al.

Much more unfortunate, a take on the Richard Rogers tune ‘If I Loved You’ is slow, a tad laboured and so ultimately uninteresting that even Jeff’s lead vocal drags in places.  With an over-reliance of blanket keyboards to replace the string section it begs for, it’s all a bit dirgy.  The only bright spark is a huge guitar chord appearing just once, only then to vanish under the dragging mire of droning keys.  The old crooner within tries his hardest on ‘Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered’, but the end result is ordinary at best, while ‘Love Is a Many Splendored Thing’ (from the 1955 movie of the same name) turns out a little better.  The rumpty-tumpty way the tune lumbers along suits Lynne’s trademark drum sounds, his guitar adds a few nice jazzy flourishes and – lurking in the back – a piano fleshes everything out.  Most importantly, occasional wordless vocals hint at Lynne’s own musical past with ELO – although, thankfully, he forgoes any use of vocoder!  Despite some okay elements, though, it is not something many would consider a classic Jeff Lynne performance.

Elsewhere, you’ll find reasonable renditions of ‘Smile’ (the Charlie Chaplin penned standard) and The Everly Brothers’ ‘So Sad’ alongside Charles Aznavour’s ‘She’ (a commendable effort which incorporates just enough of Lynne’s own style, but ultimately isn’t a patch on Elvis Costello’s version).   After hearing, it is obvious why each one has been chosen, but the resulting performances are predictable.  As with much of ‘Long Wave’, instead of insisting on playing absolutely everything himself, perhaps Jeff should have hired a few extra musicians to give these performances a little more dimension?

Listen to Lynne collaborating with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and George Harrison on ‘Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1’ and the spark of various geniuses colliding results in something that sounded like it was fun to be a part.  Similarly, Lynne’s studio expertise on Harrison’s ‘Cloud Nine’ and Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’ appears to lift those works to new, sparky levels.  Looking beyond ‘Long Wave’s home-recorded roots, it is full of multi-tracked wonderment from a technical level, but the lack of other musicians means that, in places, it’s lacking a sense of fun – something that no amount of studio understanding could ever replace.

‘Long Wave’ worth hearing for ‘Let It Rock’, ‘Mercy, Mercy’ and a couple of others, but it’s all rather more a labour of love than a musical masterpiece.  Although the more devoted fans will love Jeff Lynne no matter what, since ‘Long Wave’ comes over two decades since Lynne’s last solo effort – and some eleven years since the last completely new work from ELO – the fans deserve much better than they essentially get here.

October 2012

JUSTIN KLINE – Cabin Fever Songs

After releasing two solo EPs dedicated to multi-layered, sun-filled power pop, followed by a third outing of alternative rock (with his band Origami Hologram),  singer-songwriter Justin Kline takes a different tack yet again for his first full length release.

‘Cabin Fever Songs’ is a stripped down affair.  Recorded entirely by Kline alone at home, these thirteen songs feature voice and acoustic guitar, sometimes bolstered by bass and occasional keyboards.  The songs sometimes come from a much darker place.  Where previously Kline was happy to indulge his listeners in a world of candyfloss brilliance, these songs rely on sheer honesty and heartfelt lyrical content far more frequently than before. These are songs the artist felt he just had to write: deeply personal songs, which given the relatively lo-fi recording techniques, can sometimes feel a little bleak.  Stripped of all the bells and whistles which made his previous recordings so vibrant, it’s much easier with ‘Cabin Fever Songs’ to get a handle on what makes Kline’s songs work…or in some cases, not.

‘Nighttime Girl’ has all the hallmarks of Kline’s earlier brilliance, though in this sparser setting, it exposes how simple his songs can be.  Clean acoustic chords back a voice that occasionally sounds a little sugary for such an earnest recording, while a bassline marks time, never really breaking beyond its two note march.  A world of “oohs and ah’s” flesh things out adequately – and in all honesty, are very much needed.  ‘Resurrect With Me’, if anything, is even more simple, relying on a one line hook and not the most interesting of tunes.  The bass’s marching approach returns for ‘Sunday Night Blues’ a three-chord pop song which showcases Kline’s previous gift for a hook, even though this bedroom recording doesn’t do such a potentially great song justice.

‘Your Mystery’ is one of a few numbers where Kline tackles something truly worthy of standing alongside his previous work. Here, a quirky keyboard tune (sounding slightly distorted and off-key) tops a much busier acoustic riff.  Even without full band backing, Kline’s multi-tracked vocal is a ray of sunshine, while a more staccato approach on a hooky chorus allows his previous brilliance to come bursting through.  The woozy ‘His Knives’ works an unfussy melody and riff around a shiny sounding vocal to create something enjoyably intimate – one of a few tracks where the lack of drums isn’t quite as obvious – while on ‘I Already Do’, Kline turns an enjoyable intimacy on its head and unnerves with a truly bleak lyric.  The one-time purveyor of sunshine pop allows a look into his darker side via lyrics such as “there is no way you can act, to expose the life I lack” and “I was marked when I was born and cursed to always mourn / you can’t make me want to die, more than I already do”.  While he admits that these songs were created during a particularly troubled period, it is unlikely anyone familiar with Justin’s earlier releases expected anything quite so cutting.

The relationship once explored in ‘Triangle’s ‘Alison, We Cannot Be Friends’ is revisited and explored from a different viewpoint on a particular high point, ‘Alison, I’m Here’.  Where as previously Kline was adamant that he and the Alison in question had no more to give each other, on the slightly wistful acoustic sequel, he reaches out to the imagined heroine.  A gorgeous finger-picked guitar has a slight McCartney-esque approach and is impeccably delivered, but it’s this songs bittersweet melody and dual vocal which gives it a most enjoyable quality.  It’s easy to imagine both songs bookending a compilation of Kline’s best work, should such a release ever appear.   Just as enjoyable, the jangly ‘Carol Lynn’ is classic Kline: with an upbeat vocal and buoyant melody, this number is a great acoustic pop workout, underpinned by a ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ inspired mellotron accompaniment.  Looking beyond the sugary, happy melodies, Kline takes on the role of untrustworthy narrator, delivering the song’s brilliant kick in the teeth via a lyric that forewarns of Carol Ann’s bad streak.

Although the songs are deeply personal and rather candid, ‘Cabin Fever Songs’ is an underwhelming beast at times.  If you’re a listener who values tunes over lyrical content, the relative lack of variety within this album may become quickly apparent…and it probably wasn’t meant for you anyway.  Long standing fans may find some of the songs are in danger of sounding a little unfinished, but if this is the case, don’t worry too much; as Kline says himself of ‘Cabin Fever Songs’: “It might not be for everyone…it may even be a letdown to some”.

If after a few plays you’re still listening, feeling there’s something here, but still finding yourself looking for that moment where everything clicks, try thinking of this as a collection of songs instead of a fully formed “album”.  At first, avoid listening from end to end:  dip in and out and it works far better.  If, after that, you’re still not convinced, just remember one thing:  Justin doesn’t necessarily care if we like these songs or not, they just needed to shared.  Sharing one’s art can be a wobbly experience, but the stark honesty and cathartic edge at the heart of these ‘Cabin Fever Songs’ may appeal to some.

Listen via the widget below and send Justin a few bucks if you can.

August 2012

LIZ WOOD – Into My Own EP

Most of this second EP from Connecticut-based singer-songwriter Liz Wood moves away from the adult pop style that provided the basis of her debut release.  It’s darker tone was inspired by the end of a five-year relationship and finds Wood looking inside herself, moving through the various emotions associated with such a shake-up.  As if to resemble a sense of rebuilding, two of its four songs have a very stripped down feel.

‘Ruin’ is sharp and a little bitter. Backed by a simple acoustic riff, Wood rings emotion from every line, exploring a relationship where someone else “called the shots”.  As the song progresses, slightly discordant electric guitars round out the sound while mechanical rhythms add a real edge.  The tension is wound throughout, but essentially at the heart of the piece is Wood’s anger and insistence that she is not at fault; her delivery of the feeling that “you fucked up not me” providing the track’s main hook and central point.  She could not have picked any less a subtle jumping off point, but it’s a very strong opening statement.

‘Hanging On’ and ‘Can’t Hide’ are very intimate, featuring just Wood’s voice and piano. The former has a lovely light tune, reminiscent of Tori Amos and so many other chanteuse pianists.  Although less spiteful, a fantastic vocal, fuelled by another deeply personal lyric, makes it, perhaps, Wood’s best number this time out.  Whereas ‘Hanging On’ has a questioning tone, ‘Can’t Hide’ finds Wood in a position of strength, emotionally, vocally and musically.  Again, the piano arrangement is smooth, lending a great backdrop to Wood’s innermost thoughts with great results.

‘Fall Again’ provides a sharp contrast to the other three tracks, presenting Wood fronting a whole band and in a more optimistic frame of mind.  The drums have a real presence throughout, but they never completely overshadow Wood’s guitar lines which keep the tune motoring.  Wood’s vocal, meanwhile, is the strongest element here; her wordy performance straddles a fine line between strength and that previous vulnerability, showing a strong influence from the wonderful Lisa Loeb – something particularly obvious in her wordy delivery.  In terms of overall feel, this has far more in common with Wood’s previous self-titled EP. “Let me fall for you again and I will sink under your skin”, she sings, “no regrets”.

Given the strong feelings that rise to the fore within relationships (both during and in their aftermath), Liz Wood could have likely blessed the world with a full album’s worth of emotional outpourings.  As it is, the EP format is very effective: the shorter running time never makes it feel like she is labouring her point lyrically, while musically, its three distinctly different styles present a broad range of the artist’s talents.   While not the most uplifting of listens – understandable, given those circumstances in which the songs were born – this is a terrific release.

August 2012

BRYAN FERRY – These Foolish Things

By the summer of 1973, Roxy Music had released two fantastic, groundbreaking albums mixing pop and glam rock with a heavy dose of experimentation to produce an art-rock sound which sounded quite unlike anything heard before.  The second of those albums, ‘For Your Pleasure’ – released in March 1973 – captured the early Roxy’s most avant-garde side at its peak.  With Roxy’s career barely out of the starting blocks, frontman Bryan Ferry began work on a solo career.  His first album, ‘These Foolish Things’ – a covers record – was released in June of that year.

Releasing a covers album to kick-start a solo career could be seen as a bad move since – although often popular with the less demanding listener – they’re not always seen as particularly creative.  Ferry, however, already had Roxy Music with which to be as experimental as he wished (after all, rock music in the early 1970s rarely came in a more experimental package than some of Roxy’s best offerings at that time – and certainly not as downright sinister as ‘The Bogus Man’) and with the band’s growing popularity, the time was right for Ferry to branch out and attract a few of those less demanding listeners. ‘These Foolish Things’ could be seen as Ferry’s outlet for something a little more fun; but fun, of course, is a relative concept: although his first solo album dispensed with the oddness of his band set up, as well as any pretence of breaking new ground, Ferry did not approach the project with any less professionalism or intensity.  By his drafting in of various Roxy cohorts to help out musically, there was no fear of his solo record sounding half-baked or rushed in any way.  In short, Roxy’s musical brilliance combined with Ferry’s almost faultless personal selection of cover tunes ensured ‘These Foolish Things’ couldn’t fail.

Kicking off with ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, Ferry’s style is an instantly recognisable one.  His vocal style in keeping with that of the early Roxy recordings, he tackles Dylan’s wordy piece with an assured delivery.  Musically, Dylan’s simple chord structure and sharp vocal tack are re-worked into a world of seventies pomposity (but in a good way). There’s a solid base of piano, which is augmented by a jagged violin, courtesy of Eddie Jobson.  Initially, the presence of a small choir of female backing vocals (provided by The Angelettes) may seem a little cheesy, but in a wholly 1970s fashion, they provide a great counterpart to Ferry’s rather more unusual lead.  Repeated listens increase the enjoyment; once you’ve got to grips with Ferry taking Dylan’s sharp wit and protest and twisting it into a sub-Roxy workout, the finer points of the tune start to reveal themselves.  The lead guitar breaks near the end are impressive without bombast and the string section gets to cut a bit looser.  If you factor in the various overdubs of thunderclaps, telephones and whispers etcetera, it’s a little over the top (in a way which power pop merchants Jellyfish would wantonly embrace some years later), but in all a great opening statement; one which happily celebrates seventies excess without sacrificing general accessibility.

Bringing things down a notch, Ferry indulges his love of soul music on a version Kitty Lester’s ‘River of Salt’.  A brief number, this captures a vocal style which has far less edge – nodding towards the style Ferry would use more on the later Roxy works into the 1980s – but with the softness comes a musical greatness.  While perhaps the harmonica is inessential, Ferry’s electric piano line is lovely and John Porter’s bass line has a real presence – as it does on most of the other numbers.   The Goffin/King written ‘Don’t Ever Change’ falls in a well-judged middle ground; the version here led by bass and an often light-hearted piano.  While Ferry’s Edith Piaf-esque warbling isn’t always warranted, it doesn’t detract too often.  Like the harmonica on ‘River of Salt’, the odd element on this number comes from a slightly odd keyboard accompaniment, which adds very little musically; while not reaching into ugly territory, it hovers in the background as a mild distraction.  Luckily, the bass and piano – and as with all versions of this song, the hard struck piano chords on the chorus are absolutely pivotal – are never far away.

Taking on the Rolling Stones’ classic ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ is a brave move, but Ferry pulls off the task with relative ease and a lot of style.  Following a great drum intro from Roxy’s Paul Thompson, Ferry steps in to deliver that well known opening line: “Please allow me to introduce myself, a man of wealth and taste”; his suave delivery and sinister edge far more devilish than Jagger’s high camp.  Not to take anything away from the Stones – their 1968 recording will always remain the definitive version – but this is magnificent.  Ferry is in fine form throughout, but his band is even better: the drums lay a dominant force throughout, while the guitars have a hefty glam rock clang. Across nearly six minutes, this piece is a veritable tour-de-force; once the mood has been set and Ferry steps up a gear, horns lend a brassy arrogance, The Angelettes “woo-woo” relentlessly and Jobson’s keyboards swell in a seventies abandon.  Individually, these elements could have created a cacophonous racket, but the arrangement is so good, balancing everything almost on a pin-head, becoming ever more intense as it rolls along. As Ferry cackles during the coda, the whole band is unstoppable – almost at the point of combusting.  ‘These Foolish Things’ is loaded with great moments, but if you’ve never heard this version of ‘Sympathy’, that should be enough alone to warrant purchasing this album.  Ferry’s approach to the sixties other most popular band – The Beatles – is just as distinctly his own, without ever appearing disrespectful towards the fab four.  In a superb rendition of ‘You Won’t See Me’, the piano dances throughout playfully interacting with another upfront funky bass line.  Holding the two elements together is a simple guitar chugging out muted chords.  Ferry sounds like he’s in his element vocally; it’s possibly even one of his strongest performances.  In and out in two and a half minutes, it’s an almost faultless reimagining of one of The Beatles’ lesser known cuts; its arrangement much more interesting than the hurried approach featured on their ‘Rubber Soul’ recording.

Ferry’s treatment of Erma Franklin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’ presents what is perhaps the album’s lowest point; due to Ferry being a vocalist as opposed to singer, there’s just so many reasons why he ought to have given this a miss.  For the most part, his vocals never stretch beyond a wobbly croon and naturally this song demands more from its performance.  Luckily, his carefully chosen band ensure this doesn’t fall on its arse – Porter’s bass is rock solid and high in the mix, while the drums also carry a nice tone.  The Angelettes are in good shape too and pull Ferry through with their backing harmonies.  Ferry’s angular voice is perfectly adaptable to a lot of adventurous arrangements – as it is to some softer stuff too – but this kind of big soul music doesn’t entirely suit.  Hearing him hammer his way through rock ‘n’ roll standard ‘You’re So Square’ is far preferable.  Backed with a busy band and rinky-dinky piano, he gives the number his all.  Obviously, he’s not Elvis Presley, but then he would never pretend to be. Within two minutes, the breezy slice of old school rock ‘n’ roll is over, making its exit via Ferry’s chuckle – suggesting that this was not only fun, but perhaps the album sessions’ most spontaneous recording.  Like ‘Piece of My Heart’, Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tracks of My Tears’ could have gone either way, but somehow Ferry manages not to suck the life from this soul classic.  His voice is relatively strong and the mid-range vocal allows him to throw in a little vibrato without anything sounding too forced.  The Angelettes could have delivered a better performance – one which sounded better than a quick session job – and it’s a pity the horn section sounds like a high school band, but overall it’s not so bad.  In the context of the rest of the album, even the less essential tracks like this (and ‘Piece of My Heart’ to a lesser extent) aren’t entirely without charm, and it’s not like Ferry ever suggested his version of ‘Tracks of My Tears’ would rival the Smokey Robinson take from ’65 after all.

The horn section are in good shape on ‘It’s My Party’ punctuating a piano-led romp through the old Lesley Gore hit.  Although that brass and female vocals push this towards TV variety show territory, Ferry’s choosing not to change the gender of the song celebrates 1970s sexual freedoms and androgyny with a knowing wink.  With a huge amount of reverb on the drums and guitar combined with a slowness of pace, The Beach Boys’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is somewhat ominous, particularly once Ferry hits the lower registers. The Angelette’s contribution doesn’t perk things up any – barely a substitute at all for Mike Love and the Wilson brothers’ close harmonies, while a wandering gypsy violin only adds to the impending sense of doom while Ferry and co crawl their way across the four minute mark.  It ought to be terrible, perhaps even deserved to be, and yet, by some miracle, it isn’t terrible at all; its dreariness comes across as irony.

‘I Love How You Love Me’ – a number from the Phil Spector stable – appears in an over-egged rendition, with its fist-clenched emotions swamped by a harpsichord.  On the plus side, there’s a thoughtful and well played tenor sax solo which really reinforces the fifties feel – which lends a necessary sense of balance against the seventies camp. On first hearing, it doesn’t appear as enjoyable as some of the other tunes here, but repeated listens really allow it to shine; mostly due to that impeccable sax, but also some nice piano lines lurking beneath the wall of sound.   Stevie Wonder’s ‘Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever’ is suitably funky, but not all of the elements work as well as they perhaps could’ve.  Ferry’s piano – at the back of the mix and swamped in echo is fabulous – as is his forthright distinctive lead voice, and there’s yet another brilliant bassline from Porter. The horns are a little less forthright than before, but alone that wouldn’t have weakened the end result; that dubious honour goes to The Angelettes, whom despite sterling work on ‘Hard Rain’, sound no better here than Bananarama on a karaoke machine.  This is perhaps a deliberately styled choice, but it’s not good.  The title track contains some decent elements, but is a little overlong at almost six minutes.  Taking an old standard from the thirties, Ferry croons gently against a piano and muted trumpet, as if he were being played back on an old gramophone – a nice touch.  After a minute and a half, Ferry could have thought about bringing the arrangement to a close, effectively using it as a coda for the album.  Instead, he chooses to give it an extended arrangement with full band in tow, resulting in a mix of seventies pop/rock and cod reggae.  It ought not to work: there are times when the drummer, bassist and rhythm guitarist appear to be playing different tunes entirely, but of course, such a seemingly chaotic (but, in reality, meticulously structured) approach should be expected of the Roxy gang… Ferry’s performance is fine enough; he should also be commended for holding together an arrangement which should never have got off the ground. However, despite best efforts, ‘These Foolish Things’ (the album) still offers more enjoyable works.

The album was a chart success, peaking at #5 in the UK.   Even though Ferry didn’t manage to repeat this winning formula to such a high standard on other solo discs released over the next few years, ‘These Foolish Things’ has weathered the passing decades extremely well.   While time has decreed that David Bowie’s ‘Pin-Ups’ is glam rock’s most popular covers album of 1973 (actually released after Ferry’s debut), ‘These Foolish Things’ is potentially classier; it’s certainly superior in terms of consistency and definitely less disposable.  With this debut release, Ferry makes a covers disc seem as if it were a vital musical statement and not just some contractual filler – a rare gift, indeed.

October 2011


Although billed as an EP, with near half an hour’s playing time, this eight song release from Canadian singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Erin Passmore is almost as long as some early/mid 60s albums (and an equal length to an countless number of punk discs). Mixing elements of adult rock/pop and a few jazzier overtones, on her solo debut, the sometime member of Rah Rah presents a slow burner of a disc that has an almost epic feel in places.

The eight tracks cover a full range of sounds, between upbeat rock tunes and more understated vocal led pieces.  The lead track ‘Downtown’ is tough yet very tuneful, placing Passmore neatly into a radio-friendly rock pigeonhole.  Lead guitars add a fair amount of fuzziness to a punchy arrangement over which the vocals are strong and very assured.  In some ways, this is a very accessible entry point into this EP, but Erin Passmore offers other far more interesting musical arrangements and ideas.    With her lead vocal soaring above a selection of instrumental brilliance, ‘Into The Woods’ is one such number.  Beyond those vocals, the drums lay down a laid-back beat, the guitars add a retro twang, undercut by occasional piano and a bottom layer of subtle brass.  It really is a kitchen-sink type arrangement that takes a fair number of spins before you’ve discovered all of its best qualities…but it’s absolutely worth investing time in.

In contrast, ‘Sad Song’ is rather bleak: a drum heartbeat and a feedback drone pave the way for bursts of electric piano, over which Erin offers a personal and rather biting lyric. Chopping between full band sections and moments of sparseness, as her vocal teeters against a spasmodic drum line, this track’s striking nature makes it one of the EP’s choice cuts, even though it could also be considered the release’s most challenging. ‘Fall’ also sounds like it’ll explore Passmore’s softer side at first, as her voice first appears accompanied by a simply struck piano chord.  And then, the tune takes a brilliant and unexpected turn: with the addition of busyish drums and a distorted guitar, it becomes a rather dark and aggressive piece.  While it is musically strong, it’s often the heartfelt lead vocal which makes the track great.  The mismatched nature between music and voice provides an unsettling tone, resulting in something unexpectedly cool. [If you really get into this, then checking out Erin Passmore’s label-mate Rebekah Higgs is also time well spent. While they are not always stylistically that similar, Higgs’s ‘Odd Fellowship’ also occasionally sets out to catch the listener off-guard with a combination of strong vocals and interesting musical arrangements.]

On the similarly introspective (but much smoother) ‘Married’, Passmore really excels.  The sparingly used guitars are atmospheric, allowing a tinkling piano to lead the way on a light-sounding tune.  Passmore’s lead vocal style – moving, as it does, between a low register and (gently) passionate delivery – sounds just lovely, especially on the chorus section where her repeated line of “hold me close, I’m tired darling” emerges from the speakers with an almost lullaby/nursery rhyme quality.  The gentle mood continues through ‘Rock The Boat’, a beautifully arranged track which pitches another very enjoyable lead vocal performance against a gentle choir of backing vocals. While Passmore’s very natural tones sit upfront, the warmth of the whole arrangement shouldn’t be overlooked: gentle jazz drum fills and a strong backing vocal arrangement really flesh out the complete picture.  As Passmore’s lead voice builds to a climax, the piece ends abruptly and unexpectedly.

The title cut aside, the ‘Downtown’ EP often teases the listener by working its magic slowly; but once it’s got you, that’s it.  Between the cinematic soundscapes and Passmore’s natural delivery, it’s a release with plenty of charm.

July 2012