West meets South in jazzy folk excellence.
The is the sixth album release by Toronto born Annabelle Chvostek and her first for six years. The hiatus was due to Chvostek experiencing a serious health issue, namely severe hearing loss and tinnitus in her left ear, the result of a feedback blast during a soundcheck in 2008. Any kind of deafness is going to significantly impact the output of a musician, but it seems that Chvostek has managed her condition well enough to create an album of quality and interesting songs.
This is a folk record, but perhaps not in a traditional sense. Songs were arranged and produced in Montevideo by composer and Chvostek’s long time collaborator Fernando Rosa and it is this partnership that provides a Canadian/Uruguayan cultural fabric that wraps around the album. Musicians that play on the record are drawn from both communities resulting in quite a heady mix of jazz – including Gypsy, vaudeville, swinging – there are elements of tango and perhaps even a tinge of French cabaret. There’s lots of fiddle – but not country style – clarinet and vibraphone, trumpets, rimshots, accordion and, of course, bandoneon.
Some songs are sung in French which challenged the limited schoolboy knowledge of this reviewer, although obviously “merde” held no secrets. “Mon amour, mes cuisses sont chaudes” however was not something immediately recognisable, although even the English translation “My love, my thighs are hot” is not something heard every day. It is a smart album lyrically; on ‘Cannabin’ – “We’ve cinnamon and soft mullein/we’ll wear it in our beaks and then/We’ll smooth the edge with Cannabin” and ‘Come Back’ – “I’ll sell off all my gadgets and trade them in for wine/Empty empty everything, we’re running out of time.”
Most songs are written or co-written by Chvostek, although there is a Tom Waites cover, ‘Just The Right Bullets’, a song based on a German opera, full of tuba and trombone to add dramatic effect to the story. Standout track is ‘Walls’ which is vocally strong, with a highly effective orchestral string arrangement and which builds to a magnificent crescendo. There are more excellent vocal arrangements on ‘Firefly (You Just Love)’, the penultimate track.
The album does at times veer dangerously close to Bugsy Malone territory, but ultimately manages to steer a steady course. Chvostek’s vocal is rich and strong and delivers these songs extremely well, and given her health issues in recent years, this is a truly marvellous achievement.