Sunday, 27 June 2021

Willing - Lady Nade


Provenance: Idly browsing Twitter on evening I saw an account I follow had posted a link to 'Ain't One Thing', a track on Lady Nade's forthcoming album Willing.

Ten minutes later and I was into my third listen, and had pinged out the link to about five WhatsApp chats. Not something I do very often.

This is one of the very few albums I've pre-ordered (trying to think of others - maybe Ghost's Prequelle?), but I knew I wanted to hear more of the what I'd heard on 'Ain't One Thing'.

Bottom line - I hadn't been this excited about a voice in donkey's years. And it all came from a Twitter recommendation I clicked almost at random.

Review: I've always appreciated good singers, but I'm also big on imperfect technicians who nonetheless have character in their vocals. Lady Nade is both a wonderful singer and someone who brings heaps of personality to the microphone. One of the most joyous aspects of Willing is hearing an unalloyed voice that, for the most part hasn't been teased 'n' tweezed to the point of blandness. You hear every catch and quaver in Lady Nade's remarkable performances, which is rare, human and altogether rather intimate.

There are a couple of exceptions to this on Willing, such as 'One-Sided', where to my untrained ears the words, delivered in a variety of sprechgesang, have been multi-tracked to mildly psychedelic effect. It feels like a clever move to use such trickery so judiciously, because within the context of the wider album it opens up new colours and textures to the soundscape. As an aside, it's also primo to hear a distinctive regional accent in popular music! (Is it Bristolian? I'm useless at these things.)

I could, truthfully, listen to Lady Nade sing my car insurance policy to me and I'd be pretty happy. Better yet is the marriage of voice to these lovely, unfussy arrangements; ranging from fingerpicked folk to rocky Americana, the breathing space in the production allows for some tasty little instrumental touches to come to the surface, like the swirling guitar that wraps up 'Rock Bottom' and the sprinkling of - what, pedal steel? - on 'Willing'. 

Something I haven't even mentioned yet is the songwriting - Lady Nade takes the listener through a variety of moods on Willing and it's all done with a directness and sincerity that is utterly, utterly charming. It's genuinely moving to hear a lyric like "You're so damn perfect / In every kind of way" sung with an audible smile; I suppose what I'm grasping at here is that, at the heart of Willing there seems to be a purity of spirit and emotion. The overall impression is that Lady Nade is letting you in on her innermost unfiltered thoughts, albeit set to music.

I cannot recommend this enough; highlights for me are 'Willing', 'Wildfire', 'One-Sided' and 'Ain't One Thing', but the whole kit and caboodle is superb. Warm, uplifting, tender, beautiful - Willing is all these things, plus a lesson in what can happen if you take a chance or two where listening habits are concerned.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

60 Horses In My Herd - Huun Huur Tu


Provenance: I developed a fairly low-key interest in throat singing after watching the amazing documentary Genghis Blues. Did a bit of research and Huun Huur Tu were a name who kept cropping up. They are from the Russian federative state of Tuva, a south Siberian state that borders Mongolia - which is where the action of Genghis Blues happens to take place.

I don't really know a whole lot about wealth and status in Tuvan society, but I'm guessing that 60 Horses In My Herd is quite the brag. I don't even own a single horse.

Review: I have never been to Tuva. I've seen one documentary that focused on a very specific practice - throat-singing traditions - and I own a couple of albums featuring music from the region. I know nothing of the place, its language, its people and possess only the most minuscule appreciation of its music.

It's very easy, I imagine, to put on an album like 60 Horses In My Herd, close one's eyes and visualise mounted warriors in elaborate costumes sweeping across the rolling steppe. That's the kind of trick music can play on you. One thus conjures up a world of freedom, open plains and endless horizons; what doesn't come through are the bald statistics, such as Tuva being the state with the lowest life expectancy in Russia, or the problems relating to alcoholism in the region. 

We're all prey to this though, aren't we? One or two parps into an oompah number and it's all lederhosen and foaming steins of bier for me; gimme a hint of slide guitar and I'm in the Mississippi Delta (albeit, this is a place I've actually visited). I wonder - do non-Brits experience this with regards to England? What kind of mental imagery is wrought by the Beatles, Shakespeare, Doc Martin? And does the inevitable, disappointing reality of out-of-town shopping centres and fights in pub car parks invoke a domestic variant of Paris syndrome? Answers on a postcard.

I do understand that the soaring eagles and smoking yurts I picture when listening to Huun Huur Tu aren't real, but a part of me thinks "why not indulge?", because from about 1944 Stalin's administration really did a number on Tuva, ushering in a period of persecution against Buddhist and Shamanist practitioners. In addition, collective farm policies and centralised directives around agricultural productivity were brought in, which clashed with the nomadic lifestyles of the Tuvan people. This was, in sum total, little less than an attempt to destroy a centuries-old way of life - and for what? Cattle yields?

Perhaps, then, if I get misty-eyed when I hear the keening of an igil or the still-remarkable 'sygyt' style of overtone singing (hard to describe, but a kind of springy whistle sound), I shouldn't feel so guilty. Music is supposed to be bigger than we are, after all. It's not wrong, says I, to think of verdant pastures when one hears 'Jerusalem', or to picture the tumbling blue peaks and deep hollows of Appalachia when you hear the music of Dock Boggs or Ola Belle Reed. One of the most exciting aspects of music is that it takes you to places that you've never been to, or might not even exist. 

It's difficult to talk about highlights of individual songs when one's knowledge is so slim, but 'Kongurei' evokes a rare, delicate air of mournfulness; 'Tuvan Internationale' uses 'kargyraa', a low, rumbling chest voice, as a drone throughout, making it sound like one of the more doomy Ennio Morricone spaghetti western compositions; and 'Ching Soortukchulerining Yryzy' is a rhythmically hypnotic number that features a variety of singing styles but starts off sounding a little like Mike Oldfield's 'In Dulce Jubilo'. Mostly, though, 60 Horses In My Herd is a beguiling window into a universe of sound so remote from what I am used to that, when I first heard Tuvan music, I was left in something akin to a state of shock. That's no bad thing where art is concerned.