Two years and one EP on from Langa Langa, released through the Norwegian label, the breathy-voiced Norwich-based singer-songwriter returns with Edison Gloriette her fourth and finest album to date, a relaxed and assured collection of eleven unfussily arranged, thematically-linked acoustic tracks that again speak to her English and Americana influences.
As with her debut, it was recorded in Bergen, in a cabin studio with returning producer HP Gunderson (who also contributes guitar, pedal steel and organ) and engineer Daniel Birkeland (also on bass, Hammond and guitar) with Steve Maclachlan adding percussion, Hannah Sanders backing vocals and Noel Dashwood providing dobro on two numbers back in the UK.
Her storytelling is as fine tuned as ever, opening with ‘The Longest Arm’, a beautifully observed, Edward Hopper-inspired vignette about a brief encounter between a man (“skin pulled tight in the wind”) and a waitress in the café of the album title (it’s actually a combination of two cinema names) with its pictures of “dead actors and Italian stars”, a spark passing between them as she “ leans in closer, her hair soft on his face. She wipes his lip clean with a napkin and smells like pancakes.”
Next up comes the Latin-tinged swaying rhythms of the Superman-referencing ‘Don’t Meet Your Heroes’, a cautionary message about not being blinded by appearances and awe in matters of the heart as “sweet ideas stink like Kryptonite that slaps away the hands that made all tomorrow’s plans” and you may well end up spending the night alone “sewing spangles on his clothes” because “suddenly there’s phone boxes everywhere you look.”
Featuring Dashwood, the achingly lovely ‘Still In Fashion’ is a pessimistic song about the inevitably of crushed love (“my hopes go down with the blinds. We know heartbreak is still the fashion. Long may it never show up on time”) while, Morgan on harmonica and Sanders on harmonies, ‘Hymn In The Morning’ conjures similar fears as she sings “will there be no one but me, will there be nobody else?” and, likewise on ‘Tell Me What The Trouble Is’, the protagonist can sense the relationship falling apart “with waning grace” because of a reluctance to talk things out (“there’s quiet in everything you do and you think it’s just a little balling yourself up, but you’re bringing the whole thing down with you. We never used to be silent”).
By contrast, the piano-accompanied ‘Come To The Opera With Me, Loretta’ is about the narrator seeking to persuade Loretta to save her faltering relationship with the volatile Ronnie (“I’ll make you my case for staying together”) and, while introducing the new character of Debbie, is actually Morgan’s reworking of a scene from the Oscar-winning romcom Moonstruck.
Again featuring Sanders and harmonica, the catchy rootsy strummed pop ‘Skate While You’re Skinny’ has the air of early Joni Mitchell in its advice to “always keep your lover in mind”, “stay out of the corner where you don’t belong” and “ if the wind is blowing, put your fists up. Come out when you’re bloody, whether won or lost.”
Featuring soulful dobro, the puttering bluesy ‘Red Rubies’ was apparently inspired by the true story of a bird eating man (the title referring to drops of blood), recast as a metaphor for not crippling another’s spirit (“I would not crush your feathers,. those gentle wings, for to fly”), followed, in turn, by the reflective ‘In Your Life’, sparse guitar accompanying lyrics about not letting the moment to express your feelings pass by and remain a remembered regret.
The slow waltzing ‘A Hundred Years Old’ returns to the relationships theme touched on with Heroes, but on a more positive note about keeping love constant even when your partner finds public expressions of affection awkward (“I’m holding your coats never holding your hand”) as the character sings “oh tangle me up in the mess that you make. I’ve already rolled up my sleeves” and “when you strike up the band with your red jacket on I wait for the beat of the drum.”
Nodding to living there in 2015, the album ends with ‘In Brooklyn’, a shuffling, steel-streaked reminiscence of a time in the character’s life when “so many things we took for granted”, a time “when we didn’t need the F-train or anyone, we’d take our blessings and we decorate up the second floor” before the “tears that were spilled on the Brooklyn Quilt, packing the apartment up into boxes.” Although such lines lead you to presume things were happier then than they are now, the song closes on an warm upbeat note of reverie (“now you can tell it back to me, beginning with Brooklyn, when we were living in Brooklyn”), a poignantly affecting end to a poignantly affecting album.
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Artist’s website: www.jessmorgan.co.uk
‘In Brooklyn’ live: