Having already acquired critical acclaim for her first two albums from both press and contemporaries – Nick Cave and David Byrne are both fans to name two – Anna Calvi takes a brief detour for her latest release ‘Strange Weather’.
This 5 track EP is a captivating eclectic mix of obscure covers originally by, with the exception of one song, obscure artists.
Indeed, her choices are such anonymities that one is immediately absolved for not thinking these to be Calvi’s own work.
Of course she is no stranger to releasing covers, having already recorded songs by artists as diverse as Elvis, Cohen and Springsteen as b-sides, but ‘Strange Weather’ goes a step further. Not content to simply exhibit a diverse knowledge and appreciation of songwriting during the last 60 years with facsimile renditions, she skilfully reinterprets these works, and personifies them.
‘Papi Pacify’ is barely recognisable from FKA Twigs’ original warped R&B, opening instead with a melancholic siren’s call underpinned by a tremolo figured. The tension slowly rises with muted piano, guitars crashing and squawking dissonant strings that release with a shimmering malevolence.
This air of anxiety is broken by ‘I’m The Man, That Will Find You’ which features a guest appearance by the aforementioned Talking Heads founder. Whilst not as ambitious in its interpretation as the rest of the EP, it alleviates the opening apprehension and serves as a perfect introduction to the music of Connan Mockasin. It is also much more accessible than Mockasin’s original, which sounded more as though it was sung underwater. By pixies. On helium (if that was actually possible).
Suicide’s ‘Ghost Riders’ is perhaps the highlight; the original cyclical synth riff is adopted by bass, and Calvi’s addition of cacophonous, unsettling guitar reinstates that sense of unease apparent at the start of the EP. If Suicide’s recording is ominous then Calvi’s is downright menacing; a sonic deconstruction that implies an acute devotion to The Bad Seeds.
The title track, meanwhile, sparkles with an opening reminiscent of Grizzly Bear. A striking duet between Byrne and Calvi, ‘Strange Weather’ interweaves their dulcet, impassioned tones which are reciprocated by an arrangement that smoulders then combusts into a passionate distorted inferno.
Even Bowie’s ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ wears new attire, although more akin to the tale of ‘The King’s New Clothes’. While the romantic film score piano rolls remain, the sax fills, the guitar and percussion are no more; the tempo eased, the song is stripped, naked.
Calvi is clearly a master of innovation and her performance honest and sincere. It’s refreshing to hear an artist creating something new whilst avoiding the temptation for the obvious, both in terms of material and arrangement.
Let’s hope this is an indication as to where she is heading with her next album.