Emily Saunders – Outsiders Insiders

outsiders insiders(Mix Sounds mixs1501)

This second album from the London-based singer, songwriter and here, crucially, producer too is very impressive indeed in terms of its distinctive sound and style.

There are links we can make as individual listeners – mine are not only to Brazilian music (Emily’s first album was more strongly Brazilian and on this one she composes her own songs in that style) but also to the retro, dance jazz sound of Italian guitarist/producer Nicola Conte and sometimes in her gentler, breathier moments, to the singer Michael Franks – but with more listens, ultimately those little referential post-it notes will lose their gum and fall away.

Saunders writes a good tune, full of hooky repeats, and she knows how to match melody and words in internal rhymes for flowing effect. In less able hands words like “ramifications” and “replicate” might stand out awkwardly – not here. The songs also cleverly set sometimes angsty lyrics in generally upbeat music, and convey a subtle emotional effect in the process.

Many songs have substantial wordless sections and Saunders scats clearly and to the point. The band has a distinctive atmosphere to it as well – trumpeter Byron Wallen using his vocal phrasing and squeezed notes to fine effect, Bruno Heinen luxuriating in all the shiny metallics of a Rhodes (or Rhodes-alike) timbre – and is a tribute to the leader’s strong and coherent vision. It sounds classy, too.

My favourite track so far is the dub-funk of Descending Down, but the sunshine stop-and-go groove of Summer Days, the lunar gleam of Moon and the edgy, arty title track are not far behind.

Will the slightly processed vocal sound Emily Saunders chooses – I keep being reminded of the film Ex Machina‘s cool robot for some reason – date quickly? And will the very strong bends/slides on notes she favours (they are even incorporated into the melody of Reflections) begin to pall after a while? I’m not sure yet – these vocal mannerisms (affectations?) might become as natural as the elegant bend on this mug handle, or they might get as annoying as the swirly pattern on that curtain…

Categories: CD review

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