SASKIA – Are You Listening? (own label)

Are You ListeningNot one to idle the days away, having released two separate albums last year, the former Harley Street specialist (she’s dropped the Griffiths-Moore) returns with the first of a two album deal with America’s Suzanne Marcus Collins Foundation.

Other than two new songs, the material, recorded in Cardiff, is an acoustic re-recorded retrospective of her back catalogue on which she’s joined by David Ian Roberts on guitar, pianist Ali Petrie, cellist Gabrielle Swallow and Thomas Holder on double bass.

It opens with the strummed, folksy-flavoured title cut, originally from her out of print 2016 debut Gentle Heart, immediately underlining why she’s often vocally likened to Joan Baez. The same album provides the source for two other numbers, the reflective, mortality-themed ‘Wash It Away’ (also re-recorded for her second album, 2017’s Night And Day), again evocative in both vocal and material of early Baez, and the bluesier tones of ‘The Presence’, a metaphorical reflection on change and process that draws on imagery of the performing musician’s nightmare (“I sit here, centre stage/The audience, my call awaits/The lights are low, there’s no-one here/Empty seats do not give ear”) that also resurfaced in shorter form on her 2017 EP.

The second album is also represented here by the fingerpicked ‘After’, given a more fluid pace and tone than the original, the pensive traditional-flavoured ‘Write Me A Song’ (another changes made number, re-re-recorded from its earlier EP incantation) and, shorn of accordion, the rippling melody of ‘In Time’, yet another song about transitions (“Of all of my friends, some faces I will see again, and some aren’t around anymore, but that is a natural law/There’ll be many more, but none like the one from before/I’ll remember his name evermore, though I’m letting his memory go”).

The new album has her first studio cover of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, initially included as a live version on Strange Rivers with Jack Cookson and Lukas Drinkwater, and can certainly hold its head high among some of the best interpretations. And so to her most recent collection, Ocean Of Stars from whence she revisits ‘These Hours’, transposed to guitar (played by Cooper Lower) from keyboards and minus the bird samples, and, almost a minute longer and without the handclapping mid-song tempo shift, the vocally soaring fingerpicked relationship-cautious (“don’t tempt me with your offerings/I won’t buy what you’re selling”) themed ‘Bring It Down’ with its air of having lost touch with who you are.

The first of the two new songs, ‘Best Of You’, appears midway, a gentle acoustic ballad that mingles McCartney and James Taylor, the second being the late evening acoustic blues toned musical sensibility of the love, loss and regret-based ‘Come Comfort Me’.

Both a treat for her established fan base and a hugely enticing introduction to a new American audience the new collaboration opens up, she’s slowly but surely establishing herself as one of the finest folk voices of her generation.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Best Of You’ – official video:

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