Female Voices: Siv Jakobsen, Candy Thief, Larissa Murphy, Granville Automatic


Let's consider a category I call "Female Singers with Soft Voices." It's a dicey category. The reality of today's music world is that there are scores of young women with pretty voices vying to attract notice and a lot of them simply won't. Call it the female equivalent to the legions of young guys heading off to Nashville with bigger dreams than cowboy hats.

Siv Jakobsen comes from Brooklyn via Berkelee College of Music by way of her native Norway. She calls her current repertoire "dream-folk," a quiet, moody approach with lots of spaces and silence. I have her pegged as a future torch singer, once her voice ripens and she figures out that her tones lack the clarity to command the stage without more texturing. I sampled seven Jakobsen tracks, most of which struck me as too much of a piece. But the contrasts between her original versions of "Dark" and "How We Used to Love" with remixes done with composer/producer Martin Hviid are telling. In each case, Jakobsen alone with the white keys of her piano is too light to make impact. With Hviid, though, she slows the pace, drops down a half tone, and lets her voice ease into more soulful arrangements. Those work for me. Put another way, a song titled "Dark" deserves to feel more sonorous than somnambulant. Might be time to bust out the eveningwear and hit the late night jazz clubs.

About all I know about Candy Thief is that it's a movable pieces lineup anchored by vocalist Diana de Cabbarus. Now try to find information about her and good luck with that. I think she sews and there are tons of pictures of her on the Web, almost none of which are attached to reliable biographical details. She's allegedly from Staffordshire, but is based in Edinburgh, and apparently has kicked around a lot, but it might all be bullshit. So let's cut right to the music as experienced on an EP called The Starting Gun. It's sort of pop-rock, but with the unusual cadences and moodiness of Cat Power. Songs like the title cut and "Number Five" are like rainy days with bright sunshine interludes. Vocals (with some looping) evoke the chirpiness of The Hollies and the edginess of The Pixies, which makes them hoppy and melodic at one moment, yet strangely unsettling the next. Jangly guitar melts into crunchy power chords and back again. De Cabbarus doesn't have a clean voice either, but she's picked the right genre, whatever it might be! Listening to The Starting Gun evokes being at a party with deliciously weird people who are inventive and odd, yet grounded. I loved this release because it kept me off-balance. Every time I thought I had Candy Thief pegged, another curve emerged.

Larissa Murphy is an interesting new voice in country music if, for no other reason, she too skirts expectations. Her voice is a bit like Patti Griffin when she's being vulnerable, but with the timbre of Lucinda Williams minus the husk, and with the sensibilities of Patty Loveless, but with less fuss and frippery. Got that? How about this–it's not everyone who gets to produce a six-track EP with some of Nashville's heavyweights, and enlist a multiple Grammy Award-winning producer (Ray Kennedy) and John Prine's wife, Fiona, as executive producer. You can sample Speak Your Mind (Bego Music) online and hear for yourself. My favorite tracks were "No Town," which felt like a classic country/early 1960s pop song mash; "Mexican Flowers," a slowed-down sweet song with offbeat cadences; and "Late One Night," which is fragile but with Griffin-like soars. The latter turn is something I really admire about Murphy; she doesn't have a giant voice, but she's not afraid to air out what she has. {Footnote: If you Google her, reference the EP title or your search results will be overwhelmed by a different Larissa Murphy who has been doing Christian testimony about being married to a disabled man. Nice story–but no soundtrack!}

I'm torn about the duo Granville Automatic (Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins). Their latest effort is titled An Army without Music: Civil War Stories from Hallowed Ground (Red Clay Music) and consists of ten original songs rendered in a style that's one part 1970s style country music and one part old-style timelessness that makes the songs sound as if they could have been 19th century campfire selections.  Many of them are lovely, though selections that break that mold stand out more. My personal favorites were the parlor room feel of "Goodbye Home," the mid-tempo waltz  "Salem Church," and the hoe-down-like ghost story "Grancer Harrison," though the last of these appropriates a bit too much of the tune of Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl." Overall, "pretty" is the adjective that best describes the album and I longed for something more distinctive. My bigger reservations are about presentation. Let me start by saying that referring to grown women (in their promo) as "girls" is a 70s country trait better left non-resuscitated. I also had squirm reactions to the project's Southern bias undercurrents. I've had it up to eyeteeth with Lost Cause romanticism. Although the stated purpose is to tell stories of places threatened by development, the only heroes—unless you count one of Perkins' ancestors who deserted after Day One at Gettysburg–are Confederates, the only Union officer referenced is the odious John Chivington, all the "hallowed ground" is in the South, and the words "secession" and "slavery" are AWOL. Excuse me for mixing politics and music, but my ears grew sticky listening to syrupy revisionism.

Rob Weir

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