“Whispers and Sighs” – David Olney & Anana Kaye

5 stars (out of 5)

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Where do I start with this one? Five stars would be a good place, I suppose. It’s not even five stars that needs a lot of thought. It’s not an album that needs to grow on you; it’s all there instantly first time around. David Olney already has a fabulous legacy, but this is a pretty impressive final piece in the jigsaw. If you absolutely must have a label for it, you would probably go with Americana but there’s a spectacular range of influences and references here, pushing the boundaries in all directions to create a rich and incredibly satisfying album.  The album’s credited to David & Anana Kaye (his protégés, for want of a better word), it’s a trio effort with writing and playing credits going to David, Anana, and her partner, Irakli Gabriel. To stretch the Americana boundaries a little further, Anana and Irakli are from Georgia, the one that Paul McCartney sung about, rather than Ray Charles.

Maybe it’s hindsight, with the knowledge of David Olney’s death last year, but ”Whispers and Sighs” has valedictory undertones, particularly the album’s closing song, “The Great Manzini (Disappearing Act)”, looking at life through the eyes of a worn-out and weary entertainer. It sounds resigned and laconic rather than cynical because of the warmth of David Olney’s smooth baritone delivery, the layered a cappella Anana Kaye intro, and the bowed cello and pizzicato violins. It’s the perfect end to the album.

The ideas and influences (musical and lyrical) are varied and you can expect a surprise around every corner, whether it’s the melancholy string fragments that open and bisect the album, “The Station” (Prelude)” and “Sideview (Interlude)”, the layered Anana Kaye celestial choirs or Rolling Stones-influenced dystopian rocker “Last Days of Rome” kicking in like “Start Me Up” and morphing into “Sticky Fingers” era Stones with Bobby Keys-style sax, a raw David Olney vocal and lyrics that obliquely reference the Trump administration.

And that’s just the start, before we get into the Shakespeare references. The title song is influenced by “Romeo and Juliet” and features Anana’s layered choral vocals and a string quartet, while the busy and angry uptempo “Lie to Me Angel” ends with David declaiming King Lear’s ‘blasted heath’ speech to end the piece as the manic backing fades out. Coming straight out of “Lie to Me Angel”, almost without a gap, is “Thank You Note”. It’s a song with a sinister feel, a tango overlaid with Eastern European strings and lyrics hinting at supernatural histories. You could imagine this song soundtracking a vampire movie.

“Whispers and Sighs” is a classic album, seamlessly pulling together a huge variety of musical references to create a work that surprises at every musical turn and is packed with subtle and thought-provoking lyrics that encourage the listener to think, rather than hammering a message home. As well as the classic country themes of longing and regret, you’ll find anger, mystery and history in my favourite album of the year so far.

This album is a fitting memory to David Olney as the flame passes on to Anana and Irakli.

“Whispers and Sighs” is released in the UK on Friday March 19th on Schoolkids Records (SMR-067).

Here’s a sneak preview with the video of “My Favourite Goodbye”:

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