3 stars (out of 5)
Known for her singer/songwriter work with Coco’s Lunch, as well as other collaborations in The Jacqueline Gawler Band, Stoneflower and Picturebox Orchestra, Gawler goes it alone here in an album of mostly her own compositions.
Not straying too far from her usual fare of pop infused with jazz and world music influences — in particular from West Africa and Brazil — Gawler nevertheless comes up with some inventive and agile approaches to her songs, as well as captivating lyrics.
The most intriguing composition is the rapid-fire Varkala, sung so quickly it is almost mandatory to have the lyrics handy at first listening. The deft pacing as Gawler takes us through “ocean blue clean sheet sand feet blue sky blue eyes voice floats men gloat fishing boat bloated goat …” is full of playful energy and the expressive words conjure split-second images that stay in the mind.
This song, as well as the rhythmically strong and vocally adventurous Sahara nights, demonstrate Gawler’s talent as a song writer of intelligence, with sense of poetry and a love of language. Another lyrically appealing composition is When passengers write poetry and flight attendants sing, in which the band cranks up a little.
Gawler, who aside from vocals contributes on piano, Nord electro 73, kalimba, music box, Tibetan prayer chimes, shakere, bells and shaker, is joined by Fran Swinn (guitars, loops), Christopher Hale (acoustic bass guitar, electric bass, lap steel guitar, mandolin, pandeiro, surdo and agogo) and Ben Hendry (drums, percussion).
Guests include Eugene Ball on trumpet, Ben Gillespie on trombone and voice, Anthony Schultz on piano accordion, Simone Lang on cajon and Tamara Murphy on bass — it’s a veritable party.
Perhaps some tracks are over orchestrated and a little fussier than they need be (that may be the pop influence), which makes the Chris Cornell composition Black Hole Sun especially appealing because its simplicity stands out.
It would be nice to hear Gawler dig a little deeper vocally at times and let her voice shine through with less accompaniment, but this album has a light but intrepid feel that recalls Megan Washington in her pre-pop incarnation.