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Album review – Reb Capper: Bakelite

20 Oct

Bakelite: crackling sonic references herald the arrival of a singular talent

Bakelite: nursery rhymes and plainsong are just some of the influences at work on Reb Capper's ambitious new album

Bakelite: nursery rhymes and plainsong are just some of the influences at work on Reb Capper’s ambitious new album

There must be something in the Suffolk water that is particularly good for nourishing the county’s female song-writing gene pool.  Artists like Fiona Bevan, Rhiannon Mair and Reb Capper all have steadily rising profiles that are capturing attention well beyond the county boundaries.

With a generous 14 tracks showcasing a prodigious gift, Capper’s first full-length album is a curiosity shop of influences, styles and genres. Inside, nursery rhymes are retold, folkloric sprites summoned, passions collide, and the calming notes of evensong counterbalance gypsy dances and the crackling sonic references of the title track, “Bakelite”.

Capper’s ability to create a vivid idiosyncratic world in song has inevitably already drawn comparison with Kate Bush – and equally inevitably, garnered her the ‘quirky’ tag. There are certainly echoes of Bush’s early work in a shared gift for fusing human emotion with myth and earthy nature (“Voodoo Doll” is a case in point) but the similarity is mainly present in Capper’s eclectic range of influences – cinematic one minute, rooted in English folk music the next – which fuel her personal musical vision.

Bakelite is an ambitious album, full of charm. Lush emotional ballads like “Masquerade” and “Egg Shells” rub shoulders with numbers such as “Teddy Bears Picnic”, “Lemon Aid” and “Goblin Song”, which evoke a joyous early 1970s spirit reminiscent of the late Lynsey de Paul or Blue Mink.  “Evening Song” grows from its plainsong intro into a soaring, hey-nonny folk number, eventually combining the two  in an audacious mix, while plangent church bells segue into a blue-grass jig on the wry “Wedding Bells”.

All in all, a tasty feast, beautifully produced by Steve Mann and Capper herself, heralding the big-stage arrival of a singular talent.

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Album review – Maika Makovski: Thank You For The Boots

13 May

Language: eccentric and appealing sonic vistas

Than You For The Boots: Maika Makovski harnesses an eclectic bundle of musical influences

Than You For The Boots: Maika Makovski harnesses an eclectic bundle of musical influences

The boots in the title of Maika Makovski’s 2012 album apparently belonged to an old friend and are still going strong more than a decade later – much like the friendship itself. Born in Mallorca of Andalucian and Macedonian parents, Makovski has earned something of a reputation as an underground muse, ploughing her own furrow in the darker recesses of Spanish rock music.

Thank You For The Boots is somewhat quirkier, lighter fare – an exploration of the light and shade of friendship in which she occasionally seems to be channelling Lena Lovich, Emilie Simon, Kate Bush and even Lynsey de Paul, often within the space of a few bars.

From the sonic vistas of the opening track, “Language”, the album strikes an eccentric and frequently appealing attitude. Makovski’s gypsy guitar-tempered rock roots rumble along under some insistent beats, occasionally breaking through, as in the sinister shuffle of “Number” and the disenchanted belligerence of “No News”. But there are also jazzy samba influences (“Vulnerable”) and joyous honky-tonk rhythms (“Cool Cat”) on offer, which makes for an eclectic and occasionally uneven listening experience.

Her lyrics are sparky and articulate, at their most effective on slower, idiosyncratic numbers like the deceptively simple, hypnotic “When the Dust Clears” – a waltzing threnody with moments of spine-tingling beauty – the wistful “Men of Talent, and “Dream”, the final track, which sounds for all the world like an old English folk song.

Makovski contributed words and music to Forests, the Shakespearian odyssey presented to great acclaim last year by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Barcelona Internacional Teatre. As Thank You For The Boots amply demonstrates, she has a rare gift for absorbing and repurposing multiple musical influences.

Album review – Melinda Ortner: I Wanna Be OK

3 May

Melinda Ortner: “Strangers” from I Wanna Be, and an encounter with a tarantula

 

I Wanna Be OK: edgy beats and strong songwriting

I Wanna Be OK: edgy beats and strong songwriting

Melinda Ortner is deserting her LA home this summer for a prolonged stay in the UK, and she’s  sent her new album – I Wanna Be OK – ahead. It’s an interesting calling card. Edgy beats underline strong melodies, haunting hooks and searching lyrics.

The title track, for example, combines an intimate stream of consciousness with an insistent, almost threatening bass, gathering pace as Ortner ponders the extremes she’ll encounter as she forges a career in the music industry.

The field is pretty crowded with good, inventive female singer/songwriters at the moment. Songs like “Jezebella” are typical of the vibrant, quirky fare they are delivering in a hugely competitive market. More than once I was reminded of Leddra Chapman’s last album, Telling Tales.

But Ortner also has a flair for taking soaring themes that reflect her Californian musical heritage and scuffing them up so they have a darker, more cynical texture. This is how a 21st-century, Indie Cass Elliot might have sounded.

“Caught in the Middle”, “The Beauty in Me” and “Sweet Little Lies” all contain moments of real beauty. Ortner is great at writing seductive intros that lull you into a false sense of security. Then she turns the story on its head with spiky arrangements and lyrics that are confessional and interrogative by turn. “Say Those Things”, with its head-spinning rhythm changes, is a case in point, seeking reassurance in a world of chaos. But she can do calm, too. “Maybe” is a thoughtful, contemplative ballad that’s up there with the best of its kind.

Ortner has already enjoyed some commercial success, contributing tracks to film soundtracks and being named among the top 15 Songwriters of the Year for ASCAP’s Johnny Mercer Project.There’s a bracing, refreshing honesty about her which makes I Wanna Be OK an auspicious debut album, and suggests that an interesting career lies ahead.