by Ian Mann
August 21, 2006
In Short(t), it's just not my cup of tea.
This release by pianist/singer/songwriter is a frustrating affair. The songs featured here have been collected over a long period, the earliest dating back to 1992. This implies imply that Shortt is not the most prolific of writers and she seems uncertain of how to best present her material. Despite the presence of musicians of the calibre of Christian Brewer and Orphy Robinson this is definitely not a jazz album. It’s not exactly pop either and seems to fall between the twin stools of singer/songwriter introspection and musical theatre. Her press release compares her style to Kate Bush and Carole King, but she is unable to match Bush’s inspired weirdness and inscrutability or King’s ear for melody.
Most of Shortt’s material is in standard singer/songwriter love song territory. However, rather than sounding fashionably vulnerable her over earnest delivery makes her come across as needy and pathetic. Even “Free Of Love” a declaration of female independence has a touch of the Bridget Jones’s about it.
“Long Time”, a love song to a stolen musical instrument (a cello I suspect) is an attempt to do something different and is one of the album’s more successful songs. It’s the kind of subject you could imagine Kate Bush tackling in a less obvious but ultimately more interesting way.
There are a couple of attempts at social commentary. “Amongst The Rubble” is one of the oldest songs on the album and was written in 1992 when an Israeli aircraft crashed into a block of flats in Holland. However, the lyrics fail to convince and the use of a child’s voice in the arrangement is just too saccharine.
“Penny For My Thoughts” is Shortt’s comment on homelessness in London but again it just sounds trite, no more convincing than Phil Collins’ “Another Day In Paradise”. In spite, or perhaps because of her very English enunciation Shortt seems removed from her subject matter and can never really get inside the song.
“Vignette” and “Take It Back” find Shortt duetting with male vocalist Chris Whitehead. On the latter they are backed by a choir and tubular bells. These excursions into the world of musical theatre are far too Andrew Lloyd Webber for my tastes.
It may be that Ms. Shortt’s album will appeal to ears other than mine. I cast no aspersions on her musicianship, and will concede that the albums string arrangements are skilful even though I find them somewhat cloying.
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