Another lovely review! This time from Fatea Magazine, enjoy!
Album: River Man
Label: Half Full Glass
Anna Neale is a new name to me but a little investigation revealed that she had started her professional career as a singer in " The Commitments " touring band, before becoming a solo artist. She has toured extensively around the world and has played at festivals such as SXSW in Austin, Texas; NEMO in Boston and the Canadian Music Week Festival. Her previous album was "Touch", released in 2010.
Her musical style has been variously described as acoustic rock; folk pop and even, wait for it, sex folk [according to one Canadian writer]. To my ears, Anna inhabits the same general area as the likes of Amy MacDonald and KT Tunstall, with a dash of Kate Bush thrown in for good measure.
There are a number of interesting aspects to this album. Firstly, the recording was sponsored by a commercial enterprise [CMC Consultancy], whose logo appears on the cover of the CD. Secondly, there are some impressive guest performances from Gary Brooker from Procol Harum, Patch Hannan from The Sundays and kora player Jali Fily Cissokho from Senegal. The third interesting thing is that this recording could be loosely described as a "concept album" because it has a central theme relating to the lives of the citizens of Pompeii [which was mostly destroyed in AD 79].The Roman theme is reinforced by the cover art which features pictures of Anna [suitably attired in period costume] taken at the Roman Baths in Bath. Furthermore, Anna will be performing at the British Museum in May 2013 as part of the "Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum" exhibition.
Don't be put off by the mention of the words 'concept album', this is a well-written collection, where all the songs stand up on their own individual merit. Indeed, it is clear that a great deal of effort went into this album, from the excellent performances by Anna and her backing/guest musicians, to the superb production by Jez Larder.
Whilst the songs are mainly acoustic guitar based, they are embellished with strings [Ed Clarke and Katherine Clarke], electric guitar [Paul Williams], bass [Russ Carr] and drums [Adam Aggiss]. However, what makes this album stand out from the crowd are Anna's sublime vocals and the contributions of kora-master Jali Fily Cissokho. Fily is first heard on "Fily's Prayer" [with words taken from The Koran ] which leads into the title track "River Man" [not the Nick Drake song]. This is a stunning track which features Fily's kora and vocals underpinning those of Anna. Indeed, it has a similar feel to Kate Bush's "The Dreaming", a very short sample of which features here.
Fily also adds his kora to the following track "Hungry Ghosts", which also features Gary Brooker on Hammond and some fine bass playing by Russ Carr.
"Listen" features words by Greek lyric poet Sappho [who died around 570 BC,so I guess she won't be around to receive any royalties].
"Light" is a lovely ballad on which Anna displays all her vocal prowess against a delightful backdrop of strings and Paul Williams' guitar. The album closes in fine style with "Try" which again features Gary Brooker on keyboards and the magical kora of Jali Fily Cissokho.
In the sleeve notes, Anna dedicates this album to her two children, in the hope that one day, they will be proud of it.
I feel sure that they will.