Liane Carroll is a little like Diana Krall without the bitch and it works for her. Ballads, released April 15th, is practically malice free and consequently, extremely affecting.
From the off, Carroll's arresting vocal rises from the speaker in a soft smoke, till it seems you're breathing it in. Saying so can only give the slightest hint of the intimacy she invites over these eleven tracks: even with a full orchestra behind her, masterfully arranged by Chris Walden, her voice peels up from the rest of the track, sticking only to the meaning of the lyric. You've Changed holds the line 'There's no need to tell me we're through' and from someone else, the delivery might have come sharpened with spite but Carroll loosens the stiff upper lip, resigning herself to a letdown lover, and its a stirring moment. One of many.
The other delight in these performances is how genuine they sound; true to form, Carroll mercifully side-steps the all-too-common affliction which sees other modern jazz singers treat vowels as if they're a New Jersey cabbie. With a delightfully unmannered performance, most lyrics hit as sincere, believable episodes from her life: these could be her words, even if they do come from an offbeat selection of writers, including Buddy Holly and Carole King. Curiously -despite their authorship- the album is arranged and produced so well and Liane's performances so nuanced and easy, pressing play feels like discovering a gem time buried away.
Ballads is aptly titled. The album is midnight blue, never lively but not lacking for this. It is a heartbreak record too, for the most part. Largely, it is a triumph in this; perhaps the only fault is too much guitar, which makes much less of an impact than the delicate piano. The exception is Two Lovely People, which works into a gorgeous, fluttering guitar solo. Some songs also miss the mark - the album starts on the wrong foot and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow has been more flatteringly interpreted. Consider these blips.
So often it's said that a singers voice is wonderful when it cracks and thins with emotion. But how much better when a vocal swells and grows rich when it chokes up. The most poignant moments on this record are also its finest and throughout, the arrangements build magnificently; these are endings to stop conversation and put pauses between breaths.
This is an album to listen to time over, to soundtrack your memories with. Forget your water, leave the rocks in the bucket - Ballads is a record to cut whiskey with.