Roxanne de Bastion – The Real Thing (Nomad Songs)
A bit Dylan, a bit Paul Simon, a bit Joni. Can’t be bad can it? Jay Rawley checks out the new Roxanne de Bastion album.
I’ve just finished listening to The Real Thing, the new album by Roxanne de Bastion. All the way through. And now I’m starting it over. And you will too. To put her music into the singer/songwriter box works. For a minute. But these songs fit her so well that she kind of needs her own little corner of the box, as it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing most of these songs. The album was recorded in de Bastion’s hometown of Berlin and was produced by Gordon Raphael, who’s worked with the likes of The Strokes and Regina Spektor. It’s his work with Spektor that seems to have prepared him for this project.
At first listen, sonically, the song 1964 brings to mind something from Bob Dylan, ironically from around 1964, before he grabbed his Stratocaster and went electric. But once her voice comes floating in, you know you’re hearing something that has roots in various forms of folk, but is absolutely fresh sounding. And when was the last time you heard a song with a whistle solo in it? Her song Here’s Tom With The Weather has a hint of Simon & Garfunkel, with its minor key and beautifully intricate fingerpicking, but Paul Simon himself should be so brave to attempt production so sparse.
Next we have the up beat busker Some Kind Of Creature which features a sneaky bit of organ just to add a bit of colour. I don’t think it was recorded this way, but the lo-fi ballad Empty Space sounds like a Dear John letter to somebody, and recorded and left on their answering machine. Very cool effect. On the first single off the album, Red And White Blood Cells, and armed with only an electric bass, Roxanne pushes this one along, and puts her own spin on the age old question of who wrote the book of love. For those keeping score, other than a few overdubs, the end of this song is the first time we’ve heard anything resembling a band, but they make up for lost time and really punk/noise it out.
The defiant minor key Life I Lead features the band again, but she never sounds buried or out of place. Back to just the acoustic for Handwriting, which is the perfect way to present this song of a lover actually reading through a love letter, and features some very clever self harmonization. On Somewhere Upon Avon Roxanne sings about the trials of childhood, and growing up and trying to find your place in the system. Probably the most produced track here, My Shield again kind of deals with trying to fit in. This one features some very effective string parts, as well as some heavier drums but again it works and serves the song.
To wrap things up on the title track The Real Thing, we are again treated to just Roxanne and her guitar. With a stark beauty that made me think a little of Nick Drake meets Joni Mitchell, this is a perfect bookend for an album. I can think of only a handful of artists who can almost hypnotize the listener and draw us into their particular universe with just their voice, some wire and wood. Roxanne de Bastion does that. And it sounds like she isn’t even trying.
Words by Jay Rawley. More work by Jay on Louder Than War can be found here.