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Amelia Curran - They Promised You Mercy

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 14 / 3 / 2015

Amelia Curran - They Promised You Mercy
Label: Blue Rose Records
Format: CD


Versatile and instantly captivating seventh album from Nova Scotia-based musician and singer-songwriter, Amelia Curran

Even at this point in her career Halifax singer-songwriter Amelia Curran (that’s Halifax, Nova Scotia not Yorkshire) is still being compared to many of her contemporaries. ‘They Promised You Mercy’ is the Canadian’s seventh album. Her debut, ‘Barricade’, saw the light of day back in the year 2000, and it’s time now to forget all the comparisons and accept the fact that Curran, for all the little touches of those other singer/songwriters that do inform her music occasionally, really does have her own sound and identity now. That said, it’s fair to state that if you are a fan of female singer- songwriters from almost any genre, folk, country, Americana, pop and a little rock then you’ll, at some point while listening to ‘They Promised You Mercy’, hear snatches of your favourite singer in either Curran’s vocal style or in her songwriting. But as repeated listens of ‘They Promised You Mercy’ reveal, Curran has created a sound that is a few steps removed from the other female singer/songwriters around just now. It’s difficult, thankfully, to stick a convenient label on Curran’s music. There’s a strong folky-pop feel to much of the music here. It is, however, driven along with a harder beat than we’d usually expect, and there is an edge. It shows in both her vocals and writing that Curran is not of the little-girl-lost brigade but made of sterner stuff. Producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Barenaked Ladies, The Waltons, Jane Siberry) has proved to be the perfect choice for this project, his clear but punchy production being the perfect vehicle to carry Curran’s powerful yet emotive vocals and his production breathes life into these songs. There’s a slight ‘Graceland’ feel to the opening song, ‘Somebody Somewhere’. It’s an irresistible, immediately catchy piece that introduces the album perfectly, Curran is still lyrically sharp and her way with an instantly memorable melody has obviously not diminished. The song is so addictive that you feel compelled to hit replay as soon as the track ends, but if you’re not too fast then the opening strum of the next song and the almost world-weary vocals of Curran’s opening lines of ‘Coming For You’ get under your skin and you have to see that particular song out to see what develops. The huskiness that many hear in Curran’s voice doesn’t actually register with this pair of ears, certainly not on this duo of opening songs; Curran displays emotion for sure. It’s impossible not to be moved by her vocals especially when she’s wrapped them in such unforgettable melodies. The way that producer Wojewoda frames that voice with just the right sounds just makes those vocals even more affective. ‘I am the Night’ is one of the songs that displays the edginess in Curran’s music brilliantly. There’s a dark undertone running throughout the track. The way that Curran repeats what initially seem to be simple lyrics over and over (not just on this song but others too) is a touch of genius; the lines appear to take on new meaning every time Curran repeats them. ‘Never Say Goodbye’ brings a fuller sound. There seems to be so much going on there but everything is crystal-clear and has its place. It all adds to yet another lyrically strong song that again will be impossible to get out of your head, not that you’d want to; the strange thing is that more times than not when a song is instantly appealing as are the majority of the songs on ‘They Promised You Mercy’ we tire of them just as quickly. That doesn’t happen with these eleven songs. The thrill of hearing them for the first time still comes through after numerous plays. ‘Song on the Radio’ should be just that. Hearing the song blasting out over the airwaves would brighten the dullest of days. It’s doubtful that the banjo has ever been used to such effect on a song as powerful and punchy as this. Again the combination of Curran’s vocals and lyrics coupled with Wojewoda’s clear and imaginative production shows how well this combination works. There are a couple of tracks that gently slide into areas that might surprise the listener; despite the fact that Curran mixes many musical genres into her work it’s still unexpected when a few touches that wouldn’t be out of place on a soul album are introduced, ‘The Matador’, complete with some nice Hammond work, and the brass that creeps into ‘Fables & Troubles’ both go some way to adding yet another dimension to Curran’s music. But when it’s all stripped back to just voice and acoustic guitar and when Curran delivers lines such as “You only promised me pages/I promised you books” and “No one remembers their promise only their words” on ‘Time, Time’ the realisation that for all the sterling work Wojewoda has achieved in producing and arranging these songs the fact remains that even in the simplest of settings Amelia Curran’s songs are still powerful and affecting. There really isn’t a song on ‘They Promised You Mercy’ that doesn’t shine brightly. What Curran, Wojewoda and their chosen bunch of talented musicians have delivered is a set of songs that cover all base. There’s something here for every music lover, and it’s unlikely that any of these songs are going to lose any of their beauty over the years. Late 2014 through early 2015 has seen many above average albums released by female singer-songwriters, some of them actual career highlights (Gretchen Peters, Michelle Lewis) and newer artists like Jessica Pratt and Natalie Prass showing that the bar is set extremely high no matter what musical path they have chosen to take and develop, but for diversity and tunes that will stay with you forever ‘They Promised You Mercy’ deserves your attention.

Track Listing:-
1 Somebody Somewhere
2 Coming for You
3 I Am the Night
4 Never Say Goodbye
5 Time, Time
6 Song On the Radio
7 The Reverie
8 The Matador
9 Fables & Troubles
10 Strike the Band
11 You've Changed

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