Every now and then along comes a piece of music that just inspires you, that makes it imperative that you hear more and more of the artist who produced it. These moments are rare. But they are moments that will be cherished and remembered for years to come. That will never leave you and will transport you back to a time and a place when the sheer wonder of something so amazing and brilliant left you breathless, excited, enthused and expectant of what more will be discovered. It may only happen once a decade or so, but when it does happen it’s like finding music and falling in love with the most wonderous of art forms for new again. For this reviewer in the 1980’s it was hearing Marillion’s 20 minute epic Grendal on a passed round mix tape, the 1990’s seeing the beautiful Jeff Buckley perform Hallelujah at Glastonbury, the 00’s the explosion of the Arctic Monkey’s debut and the 10’s hearing John Grant’s magnificent Pale Green Ghosts for the very first time on the radio.
Less than 14 months into the 2020’s and I can say I have experienced that moment again. A moment so musically significant and joyous to me. A moment in which music, an art form that can and has, in some ways, become formulaic, reached new heights. Heights that perhaps the world weary amongst us thought never possible to reach again. And a moment that I will remember long into the future. Thanks to the excellent Marc Riley radio show on BBC 6 Music Anna B.Savage burst into my consciousness with the second song, called Corncrakes, from her new album, A Common Turn, which has been released on City Slang records. Wow. Quite simply and just wow. This song and album is truly something special.
This is brave, uncompromising, intelligent, challenging, evolutionary and revolutionary musicianship. It has everything about it just about perfectly spot on. Lyricism, musicianship, production. Everything is just exactly as it should be. This is an album that doesn’t touch your heart and soul. It moves in and inhabits it. It lives within you. It becomes an addiction. Now I will listen to very many albums in my life. Some will bear repeat two or three times to be put away in my CD wall or vinyl stash. And very possibly will be returned to periodically. A Common Turn, though, cannot just be put down. I have a need, a want, a desire to listen to this album at every opportunity I have. I need to explore the themes, the melodies, the poetry. Did I say need? No, no. It is so much more than that. It’s a compulsion, a drive, an almost pathological condition that means this album will stay on repeat for a long time to come.
Musically the 10 songs on this album take us on a 47 minute journey through styles and sounds that ebb and flow. From the psych-rock trip out of the title track via the jazz-folky Joni Mitchellesque ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’ with shoegaze introspection of the beautiful ‘Two’ this album delights with its musical palette. Anna creates soundscapes that transport the listener to deep, dark but ultimately rewarding places. Musically it is so very clever. Different styles that in a more belligerent hand could crash and be made discordant. In producer William Doyle’s hands it is given the sympathetic treatment Anna’s talent so richly deserves. It maybe disturbing and challenging in measure, but that is both entirely intentional and to the benefit of the record.
What makes this record so arresting and so vital, though, is Anna’s voice. At the start of this review I mentioned Jeff Buckley, the uber-talented but tragically lost American singer and guitarist, who, in 1994, recorded and released his only studio album, Grace. Grace was an album that introduced us to vocal stylings, the oxymoron of a strong vulnerability, that we hadn’t perhaps heard since hearing early David Bowie. It was, as I said, one of those moments that hits like a sharp smack to the face. The breath Buckley takes at the start of his reading of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. A breath that inspired thousands more to take their own surprised inhalation. A true hairs on the back of the neck moment. Anna has that same skill. Her voice is unique, albeit one with undertones of Sandy Denny, Elizabeth Fraser or P J Harvey. A voice that is both pleadingly innocent but defiantly powerful. It soars in sharp clarity in complete unity with the music that backs her. Anna stands out amongst her contemporaries as a vocal beacon of beauty and power. Her voice is incomparable in its purity.
Each year I award, in December, the Jezzie Award for album of the year. An award that has been won by some amazing artists and albums in the 21st Century. 13 Rivers by Richard Thompson, Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant and Blackstar by David Bowie to name just three. Despite being only two months into 2021 I feel that I have heard the winner of this years prize. Or, put it this way, if an album comes along better than this it is going to be one amazing piece of work. Anna B.Savage has me under her spell, a spell I am happy, delighted and amazed to be under. A Common Turn is a work of defining genius and utterly sublime beauty. Anna B.Savage is an artist of exceptional skill and talent. If you only buy one album this year make sure it is this one.
To buy A Common Turn go to https://annabsavage.bandcamp.com/album/a-common-turn