Music Reviews

Nancy Elizabeth Dancing

(The Leaf Label) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Any substantial research* into the subject will tell you that people who go by two first names are generally not to be trusted. And yet, when it came to settling on a stage name, Wigan’s Nancy Elizabeth decided to deliberately call attention to hers by dropping her surname instead, ending up with a moniker that makes her sound less sensitive folk-inspired singer-songwriter, more Dickensian waif. But then you get the impression, reading through the publicity materials for her third album, Dancing, that Elizabeth isn’t the type of person who likes to make things easy for herself, that after her previous effort, Wrought Iron, brought her a fair amount of attention, she took four years to follow it up, recording at home in seclusion for two and a half years before passing her work onto a producer.

To an extent you can hear the sheer effort she put in here, not just in the generally immaculately clean nature of Dancing’s compositions, but in its Morricone-nodding first single, The Last Battle, which is a pretty remarkable accomplishment, both in terms of Elizabeth’s operatic vocal style and her home-recording technique. The delicate piano and multi-tracked vocal filigrees of Heart might not be quite so dramatic but they remain impressively pristine, as are the positively spectral harmonies of Indelible Day

It’s in the fourth track, Mexico – which sounds rather like prime-period Tori Amos with added vocoder and opacity - where Dancing’s key flaw (although that term seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s more of a minor, yet persistent, stumbling block) first becomes identifiable. As a result of the long and not entirely illustrious history of piano-playing pop artists, there’s generally an expectation that results will fall into the categories of kooky, quirky or just completely, uncomfortably, emotionally bare, and perhaps for better, perhaps for worse, Elizabeth shirks all of these. Despite occasional nods towards grandiosity – the doom-laden synth of Simon Says Dance, or the fairly bald titling of Death in a Sunny Room – she is, for the most part perfectly content to work in a more restrained register.

In a way, there’s something very admirable about that – generally the singer-songwriter’s appeals of vulnerability are somewhat counteracted by their inherent desire to be the centre of attention, so to hear a work of proper, meek politeness is a rare novelty – but Elizabeth’s self-effacing nature does also mean that her work comes across as too timid to demand much attention from the listener. As the album goes on the wispiness of her vocals becomes less dazzling, more unfocused background noise and the second half, while often still genuinely beautiful – such as in the descending coda of Debt, or the general jaggedness of Raven City – doesn’t leave a huge impression. While it would be remiss to question an artist’s chosen working methods, perhaps if Elizabeth hadn’t been quite so fiercely independent in its recording, and had had to compete with the usual unwanted distractions of the outside world, then Dancing might not have been just an impressively accomplished album, but a more striking, perhaps even outright essential one. 

*a cursory googling (other search engines are available)