Tenement & Temple “Tenement & Temple” (Thrum Recordings, 2019)

Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie first came to prominence in the ’90s as part of the Scottish Indie rock band Thrum.  During their initial, but somewhat short-lived incarnation, Thrum achieved critical acclaim, but only relatively modest commercial success and they eventually split in 1995. Monica Queen continued to make music as a solo artist, mostly produced by Smillie and is also recognised for her numerous guest appearances, most notably duets with Shane MacGowan, Snow Patrol and Belle and Sebastian, particularly on the latter’s early classic ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’.

After a 16-year hiatus, Thrum reformed in 2011 and now Queen and Smillie have emerged as Tenement & Temple with a self-titled album that manages to be both atmospherically lush yet hauntingly simple at the same time.

On this release, Queen and Smillie have been helped out by an Icelandic/American contingent: Signy Jakobsdottir from the brilliant Blue Rose Code, Sólstafir’s Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson and Cowboy Junkies and Mary Margaret O’Hara collaborator Don Rooke. This combo has created a hugely enjoyable piece of work that is surprising in its style and simply delightful in its execution.

To put it simply, Monica Queen “sings like a lintie” (to use an old saying from her native Scotland, which originates from Victorian times when Linnets, famed for their beautiful bird song, were often caged as songbirds in the more affluent residences of the period). It simply delights and enchants as she weaves her way through the 11 eleven original Queen/Smillie compositions before the album concludes with an excellent rendition of the Rodgers & Hart standard ‘Blue Moon’ which finds them joined by Glasgow band, The Strange Blue Dreams.

This Tenement & Temple album sets a consistently high standard throughout and while it’s hard to single out standout tracks, the opener ‘Loving Arms’ sets the scene wonderfully for what is to follow, while ‘Your Sweet Face’ and ‘Ripa’ maintain the standard. Monica Queen’s voice and Johnny Smillie’s fine guitar work have combined to create a high-quality album and Tenement & Temple should be very proud of this debut as a duo.

An album of simple beauty that should help uplift the soul
8/10

Author: Jim Finnie

Resident of the frozen NE of Scotland, with a penchant for climbing high mountains and exploring crazy countries that others avoid. I also sorta like music.

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