Monday, 24 March 2014

Fiona Bevan - Talk to Strangers


British-Canadian singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan has entered a genre dominated by fading success and post-album recognition. It's difficult to make it big in folk (argued through the recent revival,) you need the support, the zeitgeist, and a lack of social media reliance to contemplate standing out as a singer-songwriter with a runner on folk's first base. But Bevan, like her Canadian musical influence Joni Mitchell, has a distinctive characteristic and personality to take her far beyond the Memphis wannabees. Even more impressive is Bevan's track history, which sees a number one writing credit with the collaborative "Little Things" along with Ed Sheeran released by One Direction. Various EPs and guest collaborations have been leading up to Bevan's debut album, befittingly titled Talk to Strangers - an opposing thought process for musicians contrary to your Mother's instructions.

On opening track "Rebel Without a Cause", Bevan picks up on the London Riots of 2011 from her point of view experiencing the fear and rage in her London suburb. It's a lovely start to her debut album, taking a love theme connecting the James Dean starred film of the same name, with a relationship fitting to the themes of the aforementioned film and riots which parallel the pointless rebellious attitude. It's an introduction to Bevan's intelligent song-writing sitting on top of a well-produced neat instrumental created by Bevan and patch work by Shawn Lee. Impressive work by the producer who's recorded popular albums as well as the obscure in his rich musical past. Bevan's full of joy and energy, she changes between acoustic guitar and ukulele freely, as heard with the second track "Slo Mo Tiger Glo", a song I previously heard on the ousting of independent musicians YouTube channel, On T' Sofa. Bevan is in her element here, twee instrumental, a powerful refrain of: "Don't want this to be over," matched with the reverberated follower: "Please, time go slowmo." - energising with true pop sentiments hidden in twee folk. 

Talk to Strangers is full of interesting ballad-esque folk recordings ("Gold" / "Us and the Darkness") marking a shift between the pop laden tracks such as the previous "Slo Mo Tiger Glo" and the industrial varieties - "The Machine". Bevan's real quality lies in her vocal range, similar to Joanna Newsom, with a hint of Fiona Apple's spoken word alterative pop. "Gold" is a quiet track alike many of Nick Drake's folk-jazz recordings - seemly influenced by the classical / jazz recordings of America's populist movement- the sort of material you expect to find out of Tin Pan Alley - George Gershwin, Harry Warren, and Bernard Bierman among others. There's variation on Talk to Strangers, it's influenced by a variety of genres and artists, but it never puts Bevan in a position of being a copyist. You expect to hear these recordings while shopping at Next, on a playlist with contemporary folkists Ed Sheeran, James Blunt, and James Morrison - soulful pop with folk styles. 

"The Machine" is finger-picked in the manner of Leonard Cohen, backed-up by an aggressive beat, replicating the theme, but not at all representative of Bevan’s lyrics / vocal. Though "The Machine" acts as a lead single and as one of the less uplifting track on her debut, it still comes across with its raised chorus as a typical pop song you would hear regularly on BBC Radio 2. The complete opposite is heard on "Us and the Darkness" which has relatively sorrow lyricism and another twee instrumental. It adds to the great musical quality which you wouldn't find on most pop tinted albums - "Dial D for Denial" only enhances this stance of the musical characteristics and interchangeable styles and emotions: "All the inks run, from being cried on." - a lyric sitting high on a Fun.-esque beat. Bevan reaches the highs with ease, taking this specific track to an area previously unheard on Bevan's past EPs. Again, it's the variety which makes Talk to Strangers an album rather than a collection of previously unheard recordings. "Monsoon Sundance" relishes in silence, while "Exorcist" tells the loose story of mentally unstable character Rebecca from Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name.

A number of tracks on Talk to Strangers have been re-recorded and brought up to date. One of these is the 10th track "Pirates and Diamonds", a barre chord finger-picking tune which is both catchy and relies on Bevan's vocal work to carry it. "Pirates and Diamonds" is covered in light vocal breezes and swirling piano accompaniment. It's backed by "Forwards", another of these Cohen-esque finger-picking story-telling songs with heart, soul, and a voice drenched in atmosphere; it just makes the back half of Talk to Strangers unmissable. Bevan's debut album is completed by a fantastic closer - "Last Days ofDecadence". This piano outro rings loud with reverb and delay created through traditional analogue recording and play-backs, as Bevan stated it was played and re-recorded in a tunnel, creating that vivid atmosphere and Joni Mitchell piano folk style - "The Last Time I Saw Richard". These final pieces tie together Talk to Strangers, ending on a high to what probably will be a very successful 2014 for Bevan, potentially mirroring the rapid climb of previous British female singer-songwriter Emeli Sande. There's a lot to take in here, a huge positive leaving Bevan's debut album on a course for long-lasting timeless listens. The dark end of pop is competeding with folk and jazz traditions, with Bevan's exquisite lyrical skills formed through a period of English Literature studying and song-writing. She's writing stories in her songs, painting pictures which can undoubtedly be interoperated in different ways by listeners. There's certainly more steps to climb, and Talk To Strangers is Bevan's epic child she can take with her as she predictably becomes the new poster for young female singer-songwriters. 
~Eddie Gibson 

8.0

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