Christine Tobin – A Thousand Kisses Deep
(Trail Belle Records TBR03. CD Review by Jon Turney)
Leonard Cohen never made much impression on me, save when his songs crop up on others’ recordings. The peerless singer Christine Tobin, though, has long had a special affinity for his work, and his words – a song or two of his appears on many of her past sessions. Now she gives us a full programme devoted to the sepulchral Canadian’s work.
As her show at last year’s London Jazz Festival (reviewed here) presaged, the result is a real gem, a perfect presentation of 11 of his dark musings. The arrangements are stripped back, with acoustic or subtly electric guitar from Phil Robson, Dave Whitford‘s emphatic bass and percussion shaded just so by Adriano Adewale. Huw Warren, a strong presence on Tobin’s first recording back in 1995, adds atmospheric accordion now and again. Anthem is a superb duo for voice and Gwilym Simcock‘s piano, and Nick Smart contributes affecting trumpet to Dance Me To the End of Love.
All the songs benefit from the breathing space built into this production. They are not so much jazzed up, perhaps, as jazzed down, the delivery tending at times almost to recitation. All the better for it: every word is heard to best effect, Tobin always finding exactly the right emphasis and inflection to bring out points of the lyric you might not notice.
There are musical touches to relish in every track, too: the nod to Miles’ In A Silent Way at the close of Tower of Song; a Viennese tilt to Take This Waltz which would fit Ute Lemper (the accordion especially effective here); that interplay between voice and piano on Anthem. Overall, though, it is the blend of Tobin’s lustrous dark voice with tart, often brooding words that creates that sense of rightness, that these songs might have been written with this performer in mind, because her mind reads them so sympathetically.
Tobin has some pretty good lyrics of her own, but just now she is on a roll with essays in intelligent interpretation. Her previous release Sailing to Byzantium, with her new settings of Yeats’ poetry, was a fabulously successful marriage of words and music. Her vocal artistry here brings out the qualities of Cohen’s words better than anyone else. It already makes her forthcoming collaboration with the always brilliant poet (and songwriter – they are different things) Paul Muldoon, sound like one to watch out for.
The official launch for ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ is at Ronnie Scott’s on March 17th