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.

 

Wild SkiesWild Skies” is the debut album from Linda Sutti, who is from Piacenza in Italy, but writes and sings in English. Her co-writer and producer on the album is our old friend, Henrik Freischlader, who is German but also writes and sings in English. Following his usual pattern, Henrik not only co-writes and produces the album but also plays drums, guitars and bass. The studio line-up is completed by Omer Klein (keys), Christopher Huber (violin), Cornelius Thiem (cello) and Johannes Krayer (pedal steel).

Linda’s style is conventional singer-songwriter lyrically while the music moves through jazz and light rock and towards a more poppy sound (but definitely without any EDM). Her voice is strong and distinctive and she’s equally effective on the intimate and raucous ends of the scale with touches of Rickie Lee Jones and Norah Jones (who both had pretty memorable debut albums) at various times.

The album’s opener, “Hurry”, does just the opposite; it’s an appeal from a lover to relax and wind down, but the singer isn’t having any of it. It’s a medium-tempo laid-back jazz groove with what I can only describe as a chauffeur’s gear change towards the end; it’s certainly a lot smoother than the truckers’ variety. “Try” is the most obvious single and pop tune on the album, with a hint of Suzanne Vega vocally and a lighters-in-the-air chorus. The title song, “Wild Skies”, and “Every Tick of Our Time” are both from the introspective 70s singer-songwriter tradition with the former featuring some subtle electric piano and a tempo change to emphasise the chorus while the latter has a beautiful string section intro leading into a song backed with only acoustic guitar.

Down on the Road” is the album’s ‘get out of my life’ song with a 60s psychedelic backing that Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger would have been proud of, and is followed by the acoustic piece “For the Thrill” which, for me, is the weakest song on the album. “Silence” is a pretty successful attempt to capture a fleeting moment and features some lovely subtle rhythm guitar from Henrik and a couple of very nice hooks to pull you into the verses. “Prince Coffee” uses stirring a cold cup of coffee as a metaphor for trying to make a relationship work and it just about succeeds, with a little help from the polka-tinted arrangement.

Ordinary Life”, with its minimalist backing deals with a common problem for musicians (or any kind of performing): the paradox of the wisdom and the impossibility of maintaining a meaningful relationship with a civilian, which seems to be resolved in the only song on the album written entirely by Henrik Freischlader, “Dear Mr So-and-So”. The funky guitar and keys along with Linda’s robust delivery create a sound which could be Rickie Lee Jones at her best. The final track, “No Fear”, hints at the 70s pop/folk crossovers of artist like Rab Noakes and Gerry Rafferty (and more recently John Tams) combining folk roots with electric instrumentation to good effect.

Overall, it’s a very varied and listenable album, which you would expect with the involvement of Henrik Freischlader, and there are a couple of standout songs which would work on Radio 2 in the UK. Linda Sutti’s voice is strong and convincing throughout and the strings and pedal steel aren’t overused, which increases the impact when they do feature. My only criticism is that the lyrics could occasionally be a bit stronger, which may be down to both Henrik and Linda writing in a second language; I certainly wouldn’t want to try writing a lyric in French. Putting that aside, there’s a lot to like about this album and I recommend that you give it a listen.

Out now on Cable Car Records (CCR 0311-44).