Fiona Bevan - In The Swimming Pool EP
Not long ago, during one of our new band interviews, Andy Fell, drummer with The Sways, recommended "A singer-songwriter called Fiona Bevan, who's just released a very good EP". Coincidentally, not long afterwards, we were contacted by Ms. Bevan, asking us if we'd like to hear her EP. Well, you know us, we're never ones to turn down the opportunity to hear new music. What we didn't realise up until we received the EP, was that Mr. Fell was being a little disingenuous in his recommendation of Ms. Bevan because he happens to take the production credits here. But we can forgive him that, because this is one of the best EPs we've heard for a long time, let alone a debut EP from an unsigned artist.
Featuring six songs of varying styles but all of the highest quality, Fiona Bevan's voice evokes, as her biog so aptly suggests, "Billy Holiday to Beth Orton, from Doris Day to Erykah Badu". Swimming Pool's sweet bluesy lilting melody evokes summer days, even in the wet October drizzle. The strident chorus gives this the right amount of substance to stop the song from becoming too saccharine. The Prokofiev sampling Romeo follows suit with the aforementioned samples providing real meat to the song (and neatly contrasted by glockenspiel). Cigarettes and Amaretto is one of those songs you can judge by its title. Sparser in arrangement than Swimming Pool, and more jazzy, it's a simple acoustic job, which is gratifying because the vocals and melody are enough to make this interesting without resorting to any histrionics. Wrong Boy and The Beach are similarly sparse in arrangement and, with pizzicato strings complementing the guitar, Everyone's At Work's lament against office days is effectively sleazy: "Everyone's at work, stuffed in their shirts, nooses around their necks... We'd be bad together, sit in the sun, see the suits go by."
You get the complete package here: high quality song-writing, top drawer performance and production that allows these to shine through. Fiona Bevan has a bright future indeed if she continues to write and perform consistently at the level she's demonstrated on this EP, and we strongly suggest she retain the production services of Andy Fell, who has a bright future as a producer if this EP is anything to go by. Londonist Record of the Week. (K)
Slipknot - 9.0 Live (Roadrunner)
It's Halloween so there had to be something suitably scary in this week's new releases and to many, the prospect of a double live, two hour Slipknot live album is about as terrifying as it gets. Screw Freddie Krueger, being aurally assaulted by nine masked nutters in boiler suits is enough to have you pulling the pillow tight over your face; praying no one's hiding under the bed wanting to keep it there.
Thing is, does it matter if it's any good?. Chances are that if you weren't already going to buy this, little we say is going to convince you to be parting with your hard earned cash for a four minute drum solo or a blistering live rendition of Eeyore. What you have here is 120 odd minutes of gut-shredding guitars, Corey Taylor's gutteral death screams, some astonishingly fast and heavy drumming courtesy of the possibly multi-limbed Joey Jordison and a Resident Evil style apocalyptic vision of humanity (guess it must be fun growing up in Des Moines). LOud, brutal and awe inspiring in its venom. All well and good but the Slipknot schtick also involves the masks, the boiler suits and the ferocious live preformances, something that can't be transferred to disc no matter how hard you try. There's just no substitute for the ache in the ears, the sweat pouring from your every orifice and being routinely kicked in the back of the head as the next crowd surfer flies past. Studio is studio and live is live and here the disparity ultimately works against an otherwise exemplary greatest hits package. With the band packing out arenas rather than clubs these days there's far too much stadium sized audience participation going on, way too much "Put your mother fucking hands" in the air for it not to sound silly if you're using this as anything other than a reminiscence of the Slipknot live experience. It also grates somewhat with the People=Shit anger of the early material. People may equal shit but faced with a stadium full of people (and that's a lot of people) it's possibly a better idea to get them making devil horns than inciting them to tear the world apart, which is what we always hoped Slipknot were going to achieve. Axl Roses's behaviour has caused more damge to the concert going infra-structure of the United States than these nine nasties.
So a pivotal moment perhaps. A snapshot of a band faced with the age old challenge of maintaining that initial mesmerising anger whilst gradually slipping (if you'll pardon the pun) into the knotted world of the commercially successful. But hey, you're probably not buying it anyway, and if you are considering aquaintaing yourself with The Heretic Anthem then we suggest you work your way through the studio material first. (MM)
Cecilia Bartoli - Opera Proibita (Decca)
Before we get to the music, let's get one thing clear right now. Cecilia Bartoli's new disc is titled Forbidden Opera, the words appearing stamped as if by a censor across an image of Cecilia Bartoli frolicking in a waterfall. You would be forgiven if you concluded that the album contains tracks from operas that have been forbidden in one way or another. If you thought this, you would be deceived. THERE IS NO FORBIDDEN OPERA ON THIS DISC WHATSOEVER.
The CD contains arias from early 18th-century religious works — oratorios and cantatas — that were performed in Rome either alongside or in lieu of opera, when secular drama was restricted for one reason or anther. That's fine. But by giving the impression that the album contains something else entirely, Decca's marketing department participates in this appalling trend in classical music publicity that takes for granted that a work's importance is directly proportional to the extent to which it was suppressed in the past. See also: Decca's Entartete Musik collections, and every single recording or performance of Shostakovich in the last thirty years. Censorship and political oppression are complicated, often tragic historical facts — stop turning them into your advertising blurb, okay?
Anyway, Cecilia Bartoli... yes she's easy to make fun of, her public persona a bit twee, and her repertoire decisions occasionally baffling. But even if she is too famous at the moment, there is simply no one who sings quite like her. We admit it, we are a fan of her vocal fireworks. During a break-neck aria from Handel's Il trionfo del tiempo e del disinganno, there's a moment in the repeat of the opening section where she's improvising a melisma, bouncing around at the tippy-top of her range, which made us giggle with disbelief. Later, during another fast aria from Alessandro Scarlatti's Il Sedecia, we got out our stopwatch to figure out exactly how long she managed to sing that impossibly florid line without breathing. Her ability to bring a slow movement and a whisper-quiet phrase to life, while less dazzling, are just as breathtaking.
The music on the CD is unfamiliar (with the exception of the Handel arias that he later cannibalized for more famous works, as per his standard practice). Along with the Handel and Scarlatti, there are four tracks by Antonio Caldarà. All are well chosen, and the album hangs together without getting monotonous. The orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre, create a lot of noise where required (the opening of Handel's "Come nembro che fugge" sounds like someone's emptying out their cutlery drawer in the background), and the conductor Marc Minkowski isn't afraid to push things just to edge of too fast or too slow. Great performances, which reward repeated listening. Just ignore the program book... (G)