Sunday, March 04, 2007

Regina Spektor - 'Songs'

She is a classically trained pianist, of Russian background and New York sensibility, who might prove a surprise hit in 2007. UK radio (not least the once unmentionable BBC Radio 2) has been playing, mostly by popular request, her new single 'Fidelity'. Released on 5th March 2007, both on 7" vinyl and CD, it is taken from the album Begin To Hope (2006) on the cover of which she appears kittenish.

She was not so coy on the cover of her first studio album. Soviet Kitsch was released in 2004.

This was not her first CD release either!

In the 1980s the US was the source of many a female singer songwriter, and they made a big impact on the UK charts as well, but almost all of them primarily wrote on guitar.
More recently they have rather been few and far between, but some have written on piano and still reached the UK charts. The track 'A Thousand Miles', a huge hit in the US and UK from her 2003 début album Be Not Nobody, makes
Vanessa Carlton a good case in point. Some songs on Songs have a resonance with those but equally fellow New Yorker Vanessa Carlton's second album, the hugely under-rated Harmonium (2005), indicates that the influences might actually cut both ways.

The tracks on Songs are not accompanied by complex orchestrations...
On Christmas Day 2001, in New York and with Joe Mendelson as recording engineer, Regina Spektor recorded seventeen tracks. Every one was done in a single live take and they were originally intended to be an archive session but in 2002 she was persuaded to release many of them, exactly as they were recorded, on a CD that was however only available at her live shows in 2003/4...

... Songs (2002) is amazing - it is well worth any effort it takes to find.

It consists of twelve tracks; about half of them are piano led and most of the others are largely constructed around judicious overdubs and in that respect she is quite reminiscent of Camille Dalmais - and neither of them suffers one bit from the comparison.

There is a very diffuse genre of music currently known as 'anti-folk' and these two artists both seem to represent it. So does Rose Kemp and I can see that this is indeed true as she, while largely guitar led, is also a user of self-made overdubs. On the other hand, while quite obviously related in her use of vocal overdubs, KT Tunstall never seems to mentioned in this respect but both Lily Allen (who doesn't for the most part) and Kate Nash (who very often does) both seem to be included as a matter of right! Some reviewers say that Regina Spektor has abandoned her anti-folk past on this album, but I don't hear it.
'Samson', the third track on Begin To Hope, is also the first on Songs and while she has certainly moved on it would be hard to claim that she has sold out. She is now signed to WEA, and yes the production is rather less lo-fi, but I'd say that her new (major) label have made most of the compromises because the new 'Samson' is still quite recognizably the same song.
If anything at all defines 'anti-folk' as a distinct category - and I have no problem with any of it - its subtle derivation from punk, mostly in terms of lyrical narrative rather than the music itself, is perhaps the key.

KT Tunstall applied many of the same ideas and tools to the modern folk-influenced scene, which was a different achievement entirely, and her début album Eye To The Telescope released in December 2004 sold over a million copies in the UK alone in 2005!

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