Our Daily Bread 469: Esbe ‘Under Cover’

September 15, 2021

ALBUM REVIEW/ DOMINIC VALVONA

Esbe ‘Under Cover’
(New Cat)  17th September 2021

When not in a captivating mood as a Daughter of the Desert, and channeling a former life as an Egyptian deity, it seems that the gifted, hypnotically voiced siren Esbe desires to reinterpret the standards.

After a fare old work rate of five original albums in just under four years, Esbe is ready to leave her own indelible trace on a songbook of classics: a timeline that runs from the 1960s to the age of Gershwin and even further back. Almost as a rites of passage for artists, sharing the songs that have in kind inspired them, Esbe now does likewise on her new album Under Cover.

But what can anyone possibly bring to such old worn songs as ‘Yesterday’, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘The Sound Of Silence’? The last of those, and the second Paul Simon song from his partnership with Art Garfunkel, does have a particular affinity. Not only is Simon held aloft as the singer’s most respected songwriter but the lyrics of this malady chime with her own Jewish heritage. Esbe transforms it into something approaching the mystical. Accompanied by a synthesis of sampled strings (made by Spitfire Audio and recorded at Sir George Martin’s famous Air Studios in London no less), Vangelis sci-fi vapours and tablas, she wraps the original words around an ambiguous cosmological. Esbe’s rendition of another Simon song, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, which in many artist’s hands turns to insufferable mush and a cloying dirge, sounds more like a tirp-hop vision of Lisa Gerrard in comparison.

Tapping into that traditional training and reimagining songs she would have undoubtedly learnt whilst studying, from the great American songbook Esbe takes on Gershwin and DuBuse Hayward’s languid ‘Summertime’, and the hymnal late 18th century Christian beauty, with words by the English Anglican clergyman-poet John Newton, ‘Amazing Grace’. One becomes a spiritual anthem, taken on by the African-American community, whilst the other, was influenced in turn by that same communities own musical journey and travails. Here, with Esbe’s methodology of approaching each song (pretending she’s never heard the music, only the lyrics), these well known standards float off into a plaintive trembled voiced ether of both swelled and fraught strings and bit-crushed echo, with only the most tenuous of the originals recognized melodies and feel.

Elsewhere Lennon & McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’ is rendered mysterious and wistfully wispy – like the Chromatics on the Twin Peaks set -, whilst ‘Eleanor Rigby’ sounds like its sung by the protagonist’s diaphanous heart yearned ghost. ‘A Taste Of Honey’ travels back in time to sound like a celeste plaintive weep from the 1700s as reimagined by Pentangle.

There are similar envisioned versions of the iconic lipstick-on-the-collar Billie Holiday weepy ‘Don’t Explain’ (handed a misty veil accompaniment of scale-y shaken percussion and dreamy vapours), and a synthesised vision of the old choral ‘Silent Night’ too on this explorative covers songbook. Under Cover succeeds in connecting us to the artist and to what makes them tick; what moves them, what inspires them. Coming at old standards from another angle, more or less discarding the original compositions, timings and rhythms, cadence, Esbe wraps and weaves her often cooed, apparition like hypnotising voice around songs that need reenergising; so common they’ve blended into the background. Esbe’s evocative process of spellbinding reinterpretations prompts the listener to take another look at, and to perhaps find something novel or new, in old recordings. The familiar suddenly becomes worth investigating all over again.

Further Reading:

Esbe ‘Saqqara’

Daughters Of The Desert  ‘Sorrow Soothe’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: