“With the Sentimentals” – Vanessa Peters

4 stars (out of 5)

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Vanessa Peters - 'With The Sentimentals' - TitleVanessa Peters released an album in 2006 with her band Ice Cream on Mondays titled “Little Films” and if you wanted a pithy little phrase to describe her songs, that wouldn’t be too far wide of the mark but it’s not quite that simple. Vanessa’s songs describe a world that’s somewhere between Raymond Carver and David Lynch; the songs are vignettes of American life packed with highly visual images and a hint of darkness at the centre. Of the ten songs on the album, six are originals, one is a cover and three are reworkings of earlier album or EP tracks. Three reworkings may seem a bit excessive, but working with The Sentimentals (her European touring band) has created a different perspective on the songs which more than justifies their inclusion on the album.

The Sentimentals are based in Copenhagen and they are M.C. Hansen (guitars), Nikolaj Wolf (upright bass) and Jacob Chano (drums and percussion). They’ve worked with Vanessa on tour in Europe and the States and last year everyone decided that it was time to immortalise the magic, recording the album live in a couple of Danish studios without any overdubs. The band creates a mellow backdrop throughout the album which allows Vanessa to be close-miked, creating a very intimate setting for a voice which is part early Joni Mitchell, part Suzanne Vega and part Lana del Rey.

The opening song, “Pacific Street” is a cover of a Hem song which the band speeds up and builds around a laser-clean guitar figure. It might not sock you on the jaw, but it leads you gently into the album, hinting at the little treasures within. Of the reworkings, two (“Big Time Underground” and “Fireworks” are from “Little Films”) and tell the stories of variously dysfunctional individuals in relationships; the arrangements have more space and feel more intimate than the originals, allowing the narrative to shine through. “Afford to Pretend” (originally from the “Blackout” EP) goes in the opposite direction, replacing a solo acoustic guitar backing with the full band and a military drumbeat.

Fickle Friends” and “Light” are both moody pieces, the former having an almost trip-hop feel, while the latter is heavy on reverb and the visual imagery which runs through the album. It’s fair to say that either song would fit perfectly on “Born to Die”. The remaining four songs are classic Vanessa Peters short stories, telling tales of doomed relationships (“Mostly Fictions”), the partner who’s impossible to get close to (the country-tinged “Call You All the Time”), the impossibility of completely closing the door on a chapter of your life (“The Choice”) and the album’s closing track, “Getting By” which is about – well, I think you can work that one out.

The playing on the album is tasteful without ever breaking into showy territory, apart from the lovely guitar solo at the close of “Mostly Fictions” but the songs don’t really need too much embellishment, just a framework to hang them on. If you like your songs, to use a phrase I nicked from the great Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens, “somewhere between melancholy and miserable”, then you’re in the right place.

Vanessa Peters with The Sentimentals” is released on Monday May 11th.