CATHERINE ANNE DAVIES & BERNARD BUTLER
In Memory Of My Feelings (Needle Mythology)
This is about to get a bit of a rave so I need to say something in my defence, in advance.
Belated discoveries, like late in life religious conversions, can make for fevered responses. The shock of the new-to-you, the regret at having not had this before, along with the thrill that there might be a lot more to discover, and that never quite lost sense from teen years of having something to yourself that absolutely must be shared, makes for heady moments.
That’s where I fell earlier this year when Catherine Anne Davies suddenly appeared on my radar.
Initially it was with a song done with one of my favourite guitarist/producers/writers Bernard Butler, The Breakdown, which quivered with just-contained drama, drank from open emotions, and seemed to live inside the skin of that singer. And then with her work under the name The Anchoress, whose sole album in 2016 was immediately on order and lived up to the mix of the witty, the tempestuous and the florid in its title, Confessions Of A Romance Novelist.
It was then I realised “belated” was more true than I knew, as the collaboration with Butler – once of Suede, later of a brief, intriguing but too little heard solo career, and latterly a sideman of quality (Ben Watt) and a producer who could help transform (Duffy), embellish (Sons And Daughters) or free up (The Veils) – was from a suite of songs recorded four years ago but unreleased til now.
Who knows why it didn’t get a release until journalist Peter Paphides (whose memoir, Broken Greek is a gem – while we’re doing recommendations) chose it for his boutique label, Needle Mythology, which last year released the reimagined I Love My Friends from Stephen Duffy, also has Robert Forster’s Danger In The Past, Tanita Tikaram’s To Drink The Rainbow, and clearly is an aficionado’s haven.
What matters most is that it feels unleashed now, a heady mix of swagger, drama, classicism and big, big tunes wanting to run free.
Davies voice - a bit deep, a fair bit knowing - is equally capable of Chrissie Hynde bruised tenderness, PJ Harvey slashing/smooth force and some Ann Wilson power ramble. Butler’s electric guitar work natural tendencies move between swinging glam with a touch of sleaze, needle-point treatments that might have come from a late ‘70s Bowie session and theatrical grandness.
They were, in short, made for each other.
No More Tears To Cry finds Davies holding court almost regally as Butler gives it the full Mick Ronson solid dancing guitar around her, while The Waiting Game is unashamedly classic rock: rich vocal reined in, confidently controlled guitar, a smattering of piano for colour and the kind of backing vocals you used to have to get in Vanetta Fields or Merry Clayton to nail.
If the punch and hook of Sabotage (Looks So Easy) feels like a thrilling blend of peak Hynde/Honeyman-Scott era Up The Neck and Tattooed Love Boys, and Ten Good Reasons only emphasises the Pretenders references, you also find the chilly distance of the title track turning into a vulnerable denouement and The Patron Saint Of The Lost Cause tweaking its soul/rock into something like leather romantic.
By now it’s clear that their natural affinities allow for clever flexibilities so I Know’s melody and snakiness imagines Bacharach and Alomar in the same studio, while Judas knocks down the door with polished boots, open shirts and buying china white in alphabet city grit.
And perhaps bolder than all, a cover of Madonna’s Live To Tell, offered as a bonus track, doesn’t try to undersell the tremulous drama, nor overdo the presentation beyond its electronic atmosphere, but takes the song seriously enough to be done straight, slowly liquid and, surprisingly perhaps, real.
All of which is not bad at all for a record hidden away/forgotten about for four years is it?
ps: If you find any, a lot even, of this appeals once you begin exploring the album, I would recommend digging up The Anchoress and Bernard Butler separately. Belated discoveries can be fun.