Sunday, 18 September 2011

Hannah Peel - The Broken Wave

Her Wave Takes Me, Eventually

I try not to be fickle about my musical tastes, and I try to acknowledge my prejudices - both attempts I will explore now.

I had listened to Hannah Peel's full debut album a while back and recall not being that enamoured because of its occasional twee tones and, for me, childlike tunes. Seeing her last night at the Acoustica weekend, and playing just before Richmond Fontaine, I saw enough to make me revisit and reassess this album. What impressed last night - and it really is quite simple and has always been an obvious musical touchstone for me - is she can do it live. Peel has a pleasant and powerful vocal, and she plays her instruments with confidence [especially the amped music box which has all the potential to be pretentiously twee-de-dum]. She was ably supported too and the overall live sound was entertaining and engaging. The fact that Willy Vlautin and Dave Harding came out to watch her act with some obvious interest may have tilted my conversion just a tad, but that's at least being honest. I've always been a sucker for harmony and there is this in abundance on the record and performance, consummately done [even echos of the brilliant Trees from years ago, especially closing track The Parting Glass]. A powerful track on the album and in performance is the Irish folk song Cailin Deas Cruite Na Mbo, and this gets the music box treatment live but has some additional, and effective, orchestration on the album. Indeed, the album does contain occasional complex and interesting extra instrumentation which does fill out and expand on the live performance sound. I will certainly be listening to The Broken Wave again and I think it will continue to grow on rather than wash over me.

I have always been adamant that musical taste and preference is just opinion and I'm not going to contradict that now. However, that doesn't stop me expressing that opinion, forcibly if required, and I think some force is warranted. A sound I do dislike, and which alienates me, is the fashionable female vocal that has that affected slurring and clipping of notes. It is a baby-voice, for want of a precise description, and I keep trying to articulate one. The contemporary fashion seems to come from those who would imitate Amy Winehouse. I'm not sure who Winehouse's definite influences were - female jazz vocalists obviously, and there is some Billy Holliday in there [any suggestions greatly appreciated] - but the inflections that she possessed, and the slurring of some notes, is carried with a depth of voice and tone that works brilliantly. The young female copycats fail miserably, to my hearing. I've mentioned this before and I won't try to rename the culprits, because I switch off when I hear them and thus forget who they were, but they are legion. Like last night where I switched off, but I do remember! Another such performer, and currently supporting Richmond Fontaine on their whole UK tour, is fellow Portland Oregonian Laura Gibson. From the first sung note you could hear she was going to perform in that awful slurred twang. What amazed and rankled me immediately was that she accentuated this by then singing through a separate effects microphone that nasalised the voice even more! Astonishing. And that's where the prejudice kicked in: I just wasn't interested any more. Even when reading today how much Richmond Fontaine recommended her.....

Finally, I was going to do a singular posting on this but will hide it here instead; also, I'm into my diatribe and might as well keep it rolling. In my struggle to find a neologism to describe the female vocal sound I dislike so much, the nearest I have come to doing so - in a cleverclogs and thus dodgy way - is Whineheist. Do you see what I've done? What happens is these fledgling but failing vocal impressionists try to steal from Amy's sound but all they achieve is an affected and nauseating whine.

I think I'll leave it there. Let me know if this is brilliant or naff. Or just keep it to yourself and realise that I made a genuine effort. Tirades aren't always composed or eloquent.

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