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Anna Kashfi - Procurement

  by John Clarkson

published: 28 / 9 / 2008

Anna Kashfi - Procurement
Label: Little Red Rabbit Records
Format: CD


Spellbinding collection of aching laments, sore truths and naked confessions on second full-length album from much under-rated Manchester-based band, Anna Kashfi

There are few better bands on the current British alt. country circuit at the moment than Anna Kashfi and certainly none as under-rated. Named after the mysterious first wife of Marlon Brando, Anna Kashfi was formed in the late 1990’s as a duo by vocalist Sian Webley and multi-instrumentalist James Youngjohns, and, currently expanded to a five piece, now also includes Sarah Kemp (violin, viola) ; Mike Dorward (upright bass, electric bass) and Peter Martin (electric guitar). ‘Procurement’ is the second album from this group who are still little known outside their native Manchester, and follows on from vinyl only mini-album ‘Philokalia’ (Emma’s House, 2001) and their full-length debut CD, ‘Palisade’ (Stolenwine, 2005). Sian Webley has always been an exceptionally gifted vocalist and lyricist, able to sum up a situation in a line or a stanza, and investing herself totally in the lives of the characters that she portrays in her songs. In her all too rare excursions into the recording studio, however, she has never been bettered than here. Youngjohns, who while Webley has come up with the words has written most of the music, is every bit her counterpart. “Musical genius” is an overused term, but in the case of Youngjohns, who ironically has hearing problems and is partially deaf, it is totally appropriate. Favouring antique instead of modern instrumentation, he has put his hands to thirteen different instruments on ‘Procurement’, including the guitar, piano, organ and pedal steel, and less conventionally the terz guitar, accordion, viola d’amore, harmonium and mellotron. With Kemp, Doward and Martin also on board, and another seven guest musicians including Boston-based singer-songwriter Eileen Rose and former Guthries front man Gabe Minnikin flitting in and out of the picture, Anna Kashfi have taken with ‘Procurement’ the Americana genre and turned it on its head, fusing it with elements of traditional folk, orchestral rock and droning psychedelia. ‘Procurement’ will inevitably attract most attention for its cover of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' ‘The Mercy Seat’. Anna Kashfi’s take on Cave’s last night on Death Row classic is superb. A vulnerable, terrified Webley speaks the verses and wistfully sings the choruses as she says goodbye to the life she has both loved and hated , injecting the song with both a new poignancy and added meaning. The influence of Anna Kashfi’s sister band, Last Harbour, in which Youngjohns, Doward and Kemp all also play, and whose sound has become increasingly epic, shines through. That band’s David Armes and Huw McPherson both guest on lap steel and drums respectively on ‘The Mercy Seat.’ With Youngjohns providing solid backbone on guitars, hammond and piano, it builds up over the course of nearly seven minutes into a mass of swirling, breathtaking orchestration, before finally dropping away at the end in a series of shimmering loops. Of equal note though are Anna Kashfi’s own compositions. Hymnal, hazy slow burner and folk-tinged opening number, 'Falling', features both Webley and Eileen Rose on joint vocals and is a dreamy paean to a romance of misplaced communications which Webley and Rose can't work out is off or on. “Folks say that they have seen you around my door/When I ask the day they can’t recall”, they yearn in unison. “Are you just a shadow on my wall/Moving as the sun begins to fall ?” A similar wry humour envelops the country jazz of ‘Things Get Said’, which pushes Minnikin’s rippling mandolin and Youngjohns’ melancholic accordion and piano to the fore. “I think we should be living it up/but once again I think I am living it down” sings Webley wearily about another romance on the slide. On the mournful, sultry folk blues of 'Wasting', the affair, however, is definitely over. "You can't come up here no more/Laying false claim to my precious time," rasps Webley at its start, and than, against a backdrop of Kemp's uncoiling violin and Youngjohns' wailing harmonica at the end, with bruised hurt and bitterness, "I was waiting for the longest time/You've wasted my life." On the menacing psychedelia of 'See the Good in Me', Webley, however, knows that she is at fault. "I am the IRA/I take all good things away", she spits, playing the role of an unhappy, vengeful harpy caught in an adulterous liason. With a very Catholic sense of retribution, she knows that she is probably permanently damned as a result, but, sinned against as much as sinning, hopes against hope that not all is lost for her. "See the good in me/There must be good in me", she aches in its chorus. The band, Youngjohns on guitar, hammond and harmonium ; Kemp on amplified violin and Armes guesting with loops and samples, meanwhile provide dusky-sounding, sinister atmospherics. The final song is the tender 'Tipping Point', which finds Webley and Youngjohns as in the early years of the band once more working as two-piece. "Hope for a better tomorrow/because as you reap so shall you sow", lilts Webley, accompanied by Youngjohns on chiming organ and piano, at a self-torturing friend. After all the bleakness of before, it brings the album to a close on an air of gentle hope. With its depiction of small scale tragedies and dramas, and in its aching laments, sore truths and naked confessions, ‘Procurement ‘ is a wonderful testimony to a group of extraordinary vision

Track Listing:-
1 Fall
2 A Safe Place
3 Things Get Said
4 Compass
5 Buttons & Bows
6 The Mercy Seat
7 Wasting
8 See The Good In Me
9 Friendly Fire
10 Fortune's Wheel
11 My Blood Runs Thick
12 Tipping Point

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