Friday, November 13, 2009
What is it with phenomenally talented musicians undervaluing themselves to their own detriment in this country? Perhaps it’s pre-empting the tall poppy clipping that will come their way were they to act in the full knowledge of their remarkable abilities, or maybe there is a genuine ignorance of the extent of their skills. Whatever it is, Nicola Watson is guilty as charged. A voice like hers is rare thing indeed, able to calmly meander through jazz-tinged low-fi folk, soothe with a close-mic’ed Tracey Thorn-like balm, or build to pin-drop crescendos. Watson moves with a gentle confidence and minimal backing. The violin of Xani Kolac of locals The Twoks and the brass-heavy arrangements make an inspired accompaniment and are clearly results of extensive musical and personal exploration.
Watson honed her skills as leader of the six-piece Cinema She, though Clear Is The Coast sees her move further toward 40s-inspired clean jazz and folk-influenced torch songs on tracks such as Windmills and Apple of my Cheek. Other songs such as closing track It’s Not Over Yet and the more upbeat Alice allow the band to stretch out a little and during those moments, it’s fine and they’re clearly very competent players., but it’s only when Watson sings that the record moves from intimately beautiful to being a thing of profound depth and expression and that musical backing all but disappears.
Though you could find some influences if you looked hard enough, Watson’s voice sounds as if she’s been trained to sing beautifully, learned to sing all over again from experience, then discarded everything and sung the first thing that comes into her head. Hopefully the first of many solo releases for this local wonder, a woman who perhaps just likes to keep things small and unassuming and feels no need to grandstand.