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The Irish Bjork goes widescreen on epic new LP
Peter Murphy, 10 May 2010
Villagers, the Divine Comedy, Josh Ritter... There’s something in the ether that has caused Irish or honorary-Irish songwriters to disregard the boundaries of the solo acoustic or four-square band set-up, rewrite history without the Beatles and the Stones, and start thinking cinematic.
Like her former collaborator Conor J O’Brien, Cathy Davey opens her new album with a widescreen epic. ‘The Nameless’ is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious tunes you’ll hear all year, an Elizabethan/Appalachian ghost ballad bedecked with bells, drum taps, twangy guitars and choral section that rescues PJ’s White Chalk urchin from Michel Faber’s gutter and dresses her as a madame in a supernatural spaghetti western. Big and mythic and Morricone-esque, it might yet soundtrack Kill Bill III.
She doesn’t leave it there. Davey’s songs seem to derive from at least three different timezones, a transglobal curiosity not far removed from Kate Bush’s trailblazing early albums. ‘Army Of Tears’ pits vocal melodrama against stabbing strings and a three-tiered backdrop of harmonies, while ‘In He Comes’ delicately places a geisha vocal over deftly played neo-Victoriana.
And yes, we do hear a single. ‘Little Red’ echoes Talking Heads in the same way ‘Reuben’ tipped a wink to Elvis’s ‘Marie’s the Name’. Like the aforementioned Villagers record, there’s something very 1950s-according-to-Lynch-and-Badalamenti going on here. ‘Dog’ is a Shirelles melody hitched to a ramshackle alt-rock shuffle, ‘Bad Weather’ a quietly show-stopping torch tune somewhere between Mary Margaret and Peggy Lee, and ‘The Touch’ drapes a slinky vocal across an ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ baby grand.
And she doesn’t let up for the last act: The Nameless concludes with a lovely (and lovelorn) three-song dream-pop suite – ‘Lay Your Hand’, ‘Universe Tipping’ and ‘End of the End’ – that’s nothing short of exquisite.
With 2007’s Tales of Silversleeve, Cathy Davey found her voice. Now she’s found her sound, a sort of quasi-classical sci-fi folk-pop underpinned by a bit of burlesque bump and grind, flavoured with a coy (as opposed to arch) theatricality. Praise be for little wonders.