Anna Calvi Anna Calvi(Domino) Buy it from Insound
The importance of good timing should never be underestimated. If Anna Calvi had released her debut a couple of years ago she would have been thrown in with fellow large-lunged Londoner Florence Welch. Released prior to that and the music press would have included her in the scene that sprung up in Amy Winehouse's wake, or even linked her to the sixties and cinema influenced sound of The Last Shadow Puppets. As it is, coming in 2011, despite quite openly and unashamedly carrying the sound of myriad influences, Calvi's self-titled album sounds unique enough to earn her a place on the BBC Sound of 2011 list, amongst numerous other (dubious) honours.
The combination of Calvi's influences results in something akin to sixties rock with a European twist – Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western work, flamenco guitars and great chanteuses such as Piaf have all left their mark on Calvi. The prominent featuring of a harmonium on Desire may be a nod to Nico's Marble Index, although even if it isn't, it still manages to conjure up a similarly beautiful frostiness. Anna Calvi is clearly the work of someone who doesn't have much time for the pop scene of recent years, in fact it sounds like her most recent forays into record buying have been David Lynch soundtracks (the guitar line on No More Words could have easily played under Twin Peaks' darker moments).
Fortunately for Calvi she's not only in possession of a big, powerful voice, but knows when to keep it in check – there are rarely any forays into Welch's brand of histrionics. She also knows her way around a guitar (the Hendrix name-checks she's been dropping in interviews may be a bit misleading though as it's not that kind of a record - any particularly ferocious riffage would get in the way of the sedate yet sultry mood) and, when needed, can deliver a good hook, such as Suzanne and I's oddly haunting chorus. And while there's something unpleasantly patronising about the attention that's often paid in reviews to the work of male collaborators on female-created records, co-producers Pritpal Soor and Rob Ellis (best known for his work with PJ Harvey who Calvi resembles in places - in particular on The Devil, and not just because Harvey beat Calvi to that song title) really deserve to be singled out for praise. Anna Calvi sounds clean, uncluttered and full of space meaning that Calvi's voice doesn't feel overpowering. Neither, for that matter, does the amount of reverb on her guitar, the level of which probably hasn't been heard since Chris Isaak last released an album.
While a fairly brisk listen, the album does start to drag in its second half. Not that the later songs are particularly weak, but the only thing that really marks them out from those in the first is that they're a bit quieter. There's also the questionable sincerity of Calvi's vocals – she gets half of the formula for Piaf-style drama right with her powerful delivery, but she can't do damaged particularly well, and so while the desperation in the lyrics of tracks like Morning Light may say one thing, the confidence of her voice when she's delivering them says something else entirely. But Calvi still has a lot to offer in the way of seductive, late night listening. And she'd also be an inspired choice for the next Bond theme.31 March, 2011 - 09:36 — Mark Davison