This wonderful, vibey, passionate release is just what you’d expect from a powerful singer who has been condensing the music down for ten years. Great songs, even greater voice and production.
Label: Stoopnik Records
Time: 12 Tracks / 59 minutes
It has been ten years since Rowley’s last full album release Little Dreamer; a strangely long wait, given that it put her in the charts with major label backing. Many artists would play the game and get rich as long as the gravy train rolled along.
Seeing her sing “24 Hours from Tulsa” with Burt Bacharach on piano (it’s easy to find on YouTube) shows how emotionally powerful her delivery can be and why she was picked up by a major.
But she felt herself compromised by the corporate experience – lumped in with all the Norah Joneses and Adèles – and this album is her response; a statement that expresses more of who she is.
“This is my choice, my life” as she puts it in “Brave Face,” a track with definite echoes of prime-era Fleetwood Mac. And it is a good choice. Here we get the things that brought her that contract in the first place – and more besides. She certainly shows both a musically passionate heart and a devastatingly emotional voice.
“Raw” is a word that her camp seems to bandy about, as a contrast to the polish with her earlier work, and while there are visceral performances here and there, this is not musically rough.
The exception may be “Brother,” about, funnily eough, her brother. Given its intimate nature, the demo-like style is appropriate and underscores the glory of the production on the rest of the album.
Overall, she tends to smoulder moodily, tracks building in their emotional intensity. “Forest Fire” has an understated slow-build, while the make-you-sway, end-of-set contender “Get it Back” lets rip a lot more; in the highly vibey “Princess,” her phrasing has echoes of Over the Rhine’s Karin Bergquist and the fervour develops in tandem with the guitar.
If anything is raw, it is that guitar. Her live favourite “Only One Cloud” is a prime example of some impassioned blues and the riff’s tone on “Howl at the Moon” is fat and coarse. My review copy was digital, with no personnel listed, but I suspect that blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti is behind much of this.
Another immense frustration with no hard copy and liner notes is that the harmonica on opener “Shut it Down” sounds straight out of Talk Talk’s later work - but I can't know. Still, I’d be very surprised if it is not Mark Feltham (who has also worked with artists as diverse as Richard Barbieri, Robbie Williams, Karl Jenkins and Switchfoot).
My early elation with this album toned down a bit... but then grew and grew back again. The corporates are missing out here. They’d probably never have put together a band and sound as visceral as this. Surely, this one beats Little Dreamer.