Emilia Mårtensson – Loredana(Babel Records BDV19156. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
London-based Swedish singer Emilia Mårtensson’s jazz-folk Loredana is named after her “crazy whirlwind of a mother”. It’s a kind of sequel to her 2014 album Ana, which described her grandmother’s migration from Slovenia to Sweden.
Throughout the album, mothers feature strongly in Mårtensson’s own songs. For There (Reversed Lullaby) she asked her audience, via her website, for thoughts on their mothers: descriptions, memories, stories and regrets, to be woven into her lyric. This and three other songs are co-written with the album’s guitarist, the excellent Italian London-based Luca Boscagin. There is slow, with trip-hop backbeat, uneasy grooves and guitar laced with chorus. The intimate, close-miked vocals fade into the distance for wordless lines alongside Fulvio Sigurta’s gorgeous muted trumpet. His tone isn’t unlike his compatriot Enrico Rava. The mood is emotional, with a clear-eyed lack of sentimentality.
Loredana’s breathy vocal smooths the unsettling Lionel Loueke-ish guitar patterns; she muses on her mother’s influence: “We were kept like fallow gardens all this time, waiting for the wind to come.” There’s a sublime moment in a whirlwind rush as the instruments slide up into the drama of Adriano Adewale’s percussion. Sigurta’s keening trumpet falls into free jazz, as the hurricane builds again. (Special mention for the album’s producer Chris Hyson.) Mårtensson’s One More for Ana reflects her love of 70s singer songwriters. It’s a touching memory of her grandmother focused on domestic detail, with silvery steel-strung guitar.
Aino is based on a Finnish folk tale about a bad mother: the daughter dies to avoid a forced marriage. It’s a seam mined by Sinnikka Langeland; here the guitar resembles Langeland’s Finnish kantele behind the melancholy vocal and winding trumpet counter melodies. Mårtensson grew up singing Swedish folk songs. The traditional Jag Unnar Dig Ändå Allt Gott (“Still, I treat you well”) is given a Scandi noir treatment, with melted distant electronica in forests of reverb, the voice pure then flickering breathily.
Be Still-Grow fuses two songs, the second by Mårtensson and the first co-written with Tom Cawley: “…it’s sort of saying bye to the older generation and talking about whether there’s something new that’s going to grow,” she told one interviewer. The melodies are modal and spacious, phrases repeated over moving chords and electronic colour. It’s underpinned by bassist Sam Lasserson – his subtly rhythmic playing doesn’t draw attention to itself, but is central to the album’s sound. Two London songwriters featured on Ana are represented here: Barnaby Keen and Jamie Doe. In Keen’s Arm Ourselves (Against Ourselves) Boscagin uses folk fingerpicking with jazz chords, alongside delicate trumpet obbligato and percussion. Doe’s ballad Weariest River describes how a mother’s reassurance can fail: “I’m shocked by the future…the stories you used to tell no longer comfort me…” but “…even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea.” The sparse arrangement brings the voice and evocative lyrics to the fore. Doe’s Shine a Light On is a heartfelt song of protest moving from strongly rhythmic acoustic Afrobeat to loping reggae: “It’s not fair, I hope you’ll agree, that half the world should live in poverty.”
The voice has the natural sound that comes from great skill, and the songs are lovingly-crafted and played. It’s a beautiful and thought-provoking album, and one to absorb yourself in.