Sunday, December 17, 2006
Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2006: Number 15
Joan Wasser would seem to be one of those people who can turn their hand to anything. String arranger on Antony and the Johnsons' I Am A Bird Now, the Scissor Sisters' Ta-Dah and a Sheryl Crow live album, to name but three, Real Life heads in a direction somewhere more akin to the former. Antony Hegarty's on it, for one. For another, her swooping, swooning voice, one she cleverly knows when to hold back on and when to let fly, turns Real Life from a intricately understated album into one of great emotion. Fate followers may note she was Jeff Buckley's girlfriend when he drowned, such are the parallels between much of his voice-as-instrument gymnastics and her own torch singer lead.
Real Life is a strangely powerful and entrancing work, only really letting go of its foundations on the driven guitar of Christabel, the arrangements sparse but fulsome and melodically strong with traces of jazz structure, southern soul, New York coffeehouse folk and hints of the West Coast's alternative beginnings. Behind such trappings is a personality that's willing to leave itself open on the yearning, intimate title track, where with the minimum of background fuss she details love just out of immediate reach and delivers a heartmelting declaration of the situation, and elegaic Elliott Smith tribute We Don't Own It. Hegarty turns up on I Defy, which could have been Vesuvius v Krakatoa what with judicious vocal multitracking had it not been for the soulful backing and a delicacy at odds with the sharpened lyrics. Those mesmerised, bruised vocals are built around rather than subsumed by her colleagues' textural playing, and the effect is a less Broadway or irony-tinged female Rufus Wainwright, something which could be blown up for the grandest stages but would feel just as ripened at close quarters. If she does sometimes betray her influences or briefly forget to do something interesting it doesn't detract from the overall air that here is someone bringing us an atmospheric gift that at its heights is simply bewitching and charged with rare depth.
LISTEN ON: Real Life
WATCH ON: The Ride video; Christobel live
READ ON: liveonstage talk to Joan about her influences, her positivism and whether she's actually punk (not in a Hats Off To 1978! way, though)