(Raindrop Music. LP and Download Review by Jane Mann)
Voice on Shellac is the new album from songwriter/guitarist Virginie Lacour-Puiboube (VL-P) and her talented septet Laughing with the Raindrops. Lacour-Puiboube is a Parisienne who settled in London in the late 1980s, and who has played variously with all-women Reggae Band Just Desserts, a Serge Gainsbourg tribute all-girl trio(!), a 13-piece experimental jazz group Piano di Lavoro, and Baton Rouge, a vocal-led septet.
She founded Laughing with the Raindrops in 2013, and this is their second release. Lacour-Puiboube wrote, arranged and produced all the music. She studied for an MMus in Music Performance at the London College of Music, and for this album draws on her studies there, where she focussed on “the creation of narratives in song”. Voice on Shellac is a “concept” album, inspired by the lives of her relatives, from glimpses of old photographs, and family stories, including the tale of a wonderful sounding grandmother, who flew planes, played piano and whose voice survives on an old shellac recording.
And what a fine storyteller VL-P is! Each song is arranged in the appropriate musical style for the time period of the story, and the lyrics tell the stories in a deceptively simple yet highly visual way, reminiscent of Joni Mitchell.
The opening song Voice on Shellac is a delightful ballad which tells of the young VL-P’s discovery of the shellac recording of her maternal grandmother and goes on to a describe moments from this extraordinary woman’s life. The band are immaculate, VL-P’s singing is fresh and touching, and Paul Higgs plays an absolutely beautiful muted trumpet solo.
Perro Caliente is about her maternal grandfather. It begins in a funky Donald Fagen-esque style, with splendid guitar, and then segues expertly into a sprightly samba at the point in the narrative when the grandfather makes his outrageous departure to Venezuela. Honourable mention to Theo Travis for his wild tenor saxophone on this one.
There is a pleasant bossa nova Who is Eduardito? inspired by a photo of a small boy with a balloon in the family album, with the words “Para mi hermana” (“for my sister”) scrawled on the back, suggesting a possible half brother on the Caracas side of the family. This time Paul Higgs plays beautifully on flugelhorn.
The Letter tells the tale of VL-P’s parents’ divorce, and a family ruckus, in a 1970s rock ballad form with VL-P in lovely voice.
Two Runaways relates the story of VL-P’s mother and grandmother travelling the world, presented as a long Reggae Dub – it begins as an upbeat story of freedom and travel, but with a sad refrain from VL-P’s mother as a child “But Mummy when will we get there?” and ends with a strong soulful solo from Theo Travis.
The final sequence is set in 1974, in three parts. Part 1 is my favourite song on the album, the lyrics describe an idyllic moment in childhood. It’s a jazz ballad, a gentle waltz with the magnificent and very versatile Gabriel Keen channelling Bill Evans on the piano. The melody is glorious, the arrangement is a delight and the piano is gorgeous. Sadly the idyll is short-lived – Part 2 is written in an anxiety inducing 7/8, which is absolutely appropriate to the trauma the song describes. VL-P describes the style of Part 3 as “Lazy Funk”. It is a song about dealing with grief, and poor counselling, with Gabriel Keen providing a Prog Rock keyboard solo, and interjections of “Move on!”, “Get over it!” and other banalities from backing vocalist Lutfia. It’s a disquieting end piece. Fortunately there is a reprise of Voice on Shellac to calm the listener at the end of the album, this time with a fine guitar solo from Neil McBennett.
Drums- David Ingamells, Bass – Alexander Keen, Piano/Keyboards – Gabriel Keen. Trumpet/Flugel/Melodica – Paul HiggsTenor Saxophone – Theo Travis, Lead Vocal/Guitar – Virginie Lacour-Puiboube, Guitar – Neil McBennett, Backing Vocals – Lutfia
Voice on Shellac is released on vinyl on 13 April 2022, but before then there is a live performance with a short film in Camden on 10 April for the launch. There will be further performances in London on 22 May and 10 June