A good debut but an unbalanced duo.
This is a confident and well-produced debut album from new Canadian duo Clever Hopes, Andrew Shaver and Eva Foote. It’s an album of ten, well-written tracks from Shaver (closing track, ‘Interference (Test 1,2 &3)’ co written with Eva Foote) that dissect the failing of a relationship and it’s an interesting interpretation in that many of the tracks are quite slow and laid back. A word that repeatedly comes to mind when listening to this recording is “languid”. That’s not a criticism, because this is an easy album to listen to and to drift along with but it’s surprising given the subject matter of the album – but perhaps, on reflection, that’s the way that many love affairs end – just fading away rather than explosive arguments and accusations.
The album does have its upbeat moments, such as ‘The Other Side’ and stand out track ‘Made You Mad’, a nice piece of country-rock that has single written all over it but, in the main, the album moves along at a moderate to slow pace which draws the listener in and makes for an easy, pleasurable listening experience. The downside of this is that it doesn’t take much to turn languid into boring and there are a couple of tracks here that flirt dangerously close to that edge. The title track ‘Artefact’, for instance, is in danger of slipping into the soporific until it is rescued by a very nice brass arrangement at the end that lifts the track considerably. Overall, there’s a lot to like about this album and it’s certainly a strong debut recording, produced mostly live in the studio at Toronto’s Union Sound Company and the acoustic balance of this album is very nice indeed.
Apparently, the duo was formed when Andrew Shaver, who as well as being a songwriter and performer, is also a successful actor and director, directed Eva Foote in a performance of the musical “Once”. Their voices do work particularly well together but there’s a downside to this album that becomes increasingly obvious the more you listen to it. Eva Foote is woefully under-used. For a duo, this album is far too much about Andrew Shaver. He takes the lead vocal on virtually all the tracks and, while there is nothing wrong with his voice, which carries a tune well and has character and tone in its delivery, it is nowhere near as interesting as Foote’s. For much of the album she is used as the harmony voice, a role she fills particularly well – but when you get the occasional glimpse of her in solo mode you hear what a very interesting voice she has and it suggests that she could’ve been used to much better effect if she had been featured more. You first get an indication of how special her voice might be on the track ‘The Other Side’, where she has a couple of featured verses but it’s on ‘Now We Burn’ that she really sends shivers up the spine. Here her voice, on a call and response style of slow song, has a soulful, smokey quality that really makes the recording. She does, finally, get a solo spot on the last song of the album. This is a re-working of the opening track ‘Interference’ but here it’s played as a lingering, piano-lead ballad that is almost jazz-like in its performance. This simple combination of piano, a subtle percussive background, and Foote’s voice, hints at what could come in the future if she is brought more to the fore.
It may be that these songs were written well before the duo came together and Shaver had already honed them in a certain way prior to the recording of the album, though album producer Matthew Barber, who otherwise does an excellent job, might have argued for more use of Foote’s voice. Whatever the reasons are, it does make for an interesting debut album not least for the hint of what may come with future recordings. Hopefully, Shaver will start to write with Foote’s voice more in mind and their next album will see a better balancing of a Duo that offers a lot of promise for the future.
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