(Realms/ CDBaby. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
Singer Rosalie Genay and pianist Rebecca Nash have chosen to rework songs by those most gravel-voiced singers, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. Genay’s pure voice and Nash’s lyrical piano bring a completely new, beguiling slant on well-loved songs, with their excellent London-based band.
Waits’ Green Grass is piano-less, the clarity of Genay’s voice heightened by Andrew Bain’s percussion and Jules Jackson’s bass. Leo Richardson’s tenor spells out the chords, sounding a little like Joe Henderson playing with Rickie Lee Jones. Genay’s voice has no artifice, and when she sings: ‘Come closer don’t be shy’, it sounds like a love song, with none of Waits’ slightly menacing overtones. Waits’ Sins of My Father has melting Fender Rhodes phrases recurring over a gentle backbeat, the violence of the lyrics (‘Carving out a future with a gun and an axe/I’m way beyond the gavel and the laws of man’) turned into a haunting dream. Waits’ Yesterday is Here is beautifully arranged, the instruments subtly added and subtracted, opening with an opulent tenor solo and sinewy bass. Genay’s limpid delivery lets the nostalgic words speak for themselves: ‘…well, today is grey skies/tomorrow is tears/you’ll have to wait till yesterday is here.’
Although Genay is Dutch, there are undertones of Scandinavian singers, perhaps Josefine Cronholm or Sidsel Endresen, with deliciously dissonant Fender Rhodes chords creeping between the vocal lines. Nash and Genay’s own song, Family of Things sits at the centre of the album, with a spacey Tord Gustavson sensibility and delicate brushwork from Bain. Richardson’s luscious tenor trails languorously though the chords.
Cohen’s You Know Who I Am repeats the phrase ‘changing from nothing to one’ like a mantra over the intro. Genay alternates lines in English and Dutch (her own translation) with a direct urgency, far from Cohen’s sardonic humour, her voice beautifully framed by Nash’s liquid piano phrases. If it Be Your Will, in 7 with a heart-tugging Fender Rhodes solo, has an exquisitely gentle, Gretchen Parlato-like drum ‘n’ bass feel. Bain and Jackson work together regularly elsewhere, and their rapport is strong on this track, bass pinning the groove to the fidgety drumming. Cohen’s Who by Fire poses its oblique questions over a funky 5/4 beat. Genay has folk-like qualities here, with strong bluesy inflections- she can sound a little like Christine Tobin, but with higher vocal tones.
The imaginative arrangement of Bird on a Wire takes a modal route- it’s not immediately clear where the root is, which makes the melody sound completely fresh. Jackson’s rhythmic ostinato bass line (he’s also a drummer in another life) is especially effective, allowing Nash and Bain to play more freely. The iconic Suzanne appears twice on the album, sung in both English and Dutch. (Herman van Veen’s translation.) The treatment is spacious and slow, Nash’s fine piano solo almost singing too.
Like Suzanne herself, Rosalie Genay and Rebecca Nash take the listener to a special place, where you find new things in familiar songs. The arrangements are thoughtful and often very original, sung and played with unaffected beauty.