Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bridget St. John - Songs for the gentle man CD (Cherry Red)

Imagine a Nico of the buttercups, all sunshine, smiles and cautious optimism. On her second album, Bridget St. John’s voice is eerily similar to Nico’s Teutonic burr, with the same warm timber and oddly precise enunciation. She even brings out the harmonium for the tiny final snatch of a song. Affected, adenoidal, plying a formal language so narrow it recalls Dorothy Parker’s jibe about Katharine Hepburn running the gamut of emotions from A to B, the effect is nonetheless quite captivating. St. John collaborated with producer-arranger Ron Geesin (Pink Floyd) on this little sweetmeat for John Peel’s short-lived Dandelion label, a set of cool, pastel originals garnished with a pinch of John Martyn and a splash of Donovan.

The chamber group and vocalists that accompany her lilting folk-rock meanders are utilized in unsettling ways that highlight the record’s understated weirdness. On the opening track, “A Day Away,” the players’ subdued burble rises gently like the sound of a band just downstream, while the listener floats closer, not knowing who or what he’ll see there. Elsewhere, they hum like bees in the garden, just out of reach, sometimes buzzing along with the lady, sometimes in opposition. Through it all, St. John slides along unflappable, a Fernand Khnopff sphinx on the River Cam. A small record, yet one that fills the room and lingers. (Kim Cooper, this originally appeared in the book Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed)

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