Emily Saunders – Outsiders Insiders
(The MIx Sounds. MIXS1501. CD Review by Peter Jones)
It’s a delight occasionally to hear something that sounds genuinely new. Better still when it’s cool, sophisticated, full of space and light, and beautifully performed. Singer Emily Saunders’ second album falls into that rare category. Her music is hip and up-to-date, and even though you can hear her influences, it sounds highly distinctive. She also wrote, arranged and produced the album, which comes out in March, four years after her well-received debut Cotton Skies.
Not surprisingly, given its earworm quality, the title track has been getting airplay lately. Why wouldn’t it be a hit single, with that wonderful syncopated The Beat Goes On riff? There’s an android vocal, followed by a sweet harmony answering vocal; however the bridge is probably too challenging for the charts, featuring Byron Wallen’s squeaky trumpet over a broken rhythm and then a super-cool electric piano solo from Steve Pringle.
If you’re looking for vocal comparisons, you will hear echoes of Gretchen Parlato and Lauren Desberg here, and certainly Bebel Gilberto in Saunders’s glissando style – so apparently effortless as to be Teflon-coated. Yet what she’s singing is often extremely difficult, soaring through rapid chord changes on Brazilian-influenced tunes like Residing. There’s an alien, dreamlike quality to many tracks: You Caught Me, Moon and the tautological Descending Down, with their intriguingly elliptical lyrics and slow, vibrato Rhodes backing from Bruno Heinen.
The musicians are locked into Saunders’ musical vision. She has used two different pianists, two bassists and two percussionists, but such is her control over the arrangements that you wouldn’t know it. Vocally, she does so much more than just sing the songs over a backing. Take Metronomic, which begins with a wordless, snaky improvisation on some Eastern scale before settling into a dark meditation about ‘a man who sought to control’, and ending on a brief cacophony of electronic noise. The album closes with You With Me, a gorgeous, poignant voice-and-piano ballad that’s over much too quickly.
Everything on Outsiders Insiders is drenched in melody, and it’s this, as well as the intimate and deeply-felt quality to the recordings that lifts them above the everyday.
Emily Saunders: Voice
Byron Wallen: Trumpet
Trevor Mires: Trombone
Bruno Heinen: Keys
Steve Pringle: Keys (Outsiders Insiders)
Dave Whitford: Bass
Paul Michael: Bass (Residing, Descending Down)
Jon Scott: Drums
Fabio de Oliveira: Percussion
Asaf Sirkis: Percussion (Descending Down)
The album launch is St James Studio, London on March 17th.