CD Review – Alondra Bentley: Ashfield Avenue

16 May

Alondra Bentley: make room for another new voice

Ashfield Avenue: Alondra Bentley's absorbing debut album

There’s something of the Tardis about the contemporary, thriving young female singer/songwriter market. Just when you think there can’t possibly be room for another one, along comes yet another distinctive, highly individual voice with a new perspective; and the boundaries expand to accommodate them. This is the upside of the Internet as a democratic market place in which the listener is completely in control. Success or failure is no longer defined by the limited vision of music marketers in their air-cooled offices – or the soulless calculations of Simon Cowell.

So welcome to the scene, Alondra Bentley and her debut album Ashfield Avenue, with her delicate acoustic sound, deft use of strings and literate lyrics that command attention with their subtlety and honesty.

If I call Bentley’s voice ‘sweet’, it isn’t because I want to start dealing in twee clichés. There’s nothing saccharine about it. Rather, she has a purity and instinct that evokes the integrity and folk sensibilities of Mary Hopkin or Vashti Bunyan, occasionally giving way to a more resonant, bluesy timbre that comes to life on the bittersweet, jaunty “Giants are Windmills”.

Bentley evokes Don Quizote with “Giants are Windmills”

Bentley was born in Lancaster in 1983 – in a house in the Ashfield Avenue of the album’s title – but has spent most of her life in Spain, and this has obviously had a profound effect on her music, which brings to mind an extraordinary range of influences. There is an adventurous spirit behind the melodies of these charming, occasionally unsettling, songs and while some of the effect might be down to producer Cesar Verdu, the self-taught Bentley’s own musicality – she accompanies herself on the guitar but is joined variously by guest musicians on banjo, charango, piano double bass and trumpet – is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

This is an album for sultry summer afternoons, the songs rippling around the room like tantalising breezes. Each number is a lyrical journey, presented with an attention to detail that allows every musical component to shine: the lilting, honky-tonk banjo; the plink of a guitar string; a sudden, sombre bass piano note. And above it all, Bentley’s assured but intimate voice as she weaves her potent stories. “Some Things of My Own” is a delightful tale of the troubadour’s material poverty. “Sunglasses” plays out the emotions and realisations that follow in the wake of a mundane accident. “I Feel Alive” is a delightful sensory tapestry of memories colliding in the present. This is absorbing stuff.

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