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EVERY TIME THIS ALBUM ENDS, I am startled. Every single time. What? It’s over already? But …

Apart from confirming how slowly I learn, this gives you an idea of how easy it is to lose yourself in the mood as much as the sound of Catherine McQuade’s songs. Not the least of them being the final track, Fall: a languorous rhythm that is part night bar jazz and part afternoon drifting in a lagoon; a flugelhorn that, like the voice, pitches just on the still expectant side of forlorn; a guitar which lets tendrils flow from it while the piano lightly tethers them; and lyrics which bring just enough hope of better to those moods.

The four minutes and fourteen seconds of Fall stretch out to six or seven minutes, or longer – I mean, who knows? Clearly not me – but it’s never formless because the writing is tight. And when McQuade says “and into the blue”, you’re already there.

If Kiss Him Goodbye was all like Fall and seaside holiday-with-marimba These Are The Days, this would be an extremely attractive record, perfect for people who like their peregrinations on the gentle side and their evenings in to be in low light with accompanying medium-size tumblers. And there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that: I’d listen, for sure.

But as with Cousteau/CousteauX and Catherine Anne Davies/The Anchoress, two fellow travellers in that smoky territory between torch song, songs of dread, and charged mood setters, McQuade often mingles the romance of the form with a touch, sometimes merely the suggestion, of disquiet alongside lyrics that canvass ill as much as good.

Whether in the neo spaghetti western of the title track (complete with whistling, trumpet and banjo), the Portishead shades of Control (low-key drums and high focus bass enveloped in echoey gloom), or the album’s opening, the watching-a-French-detective-film accompaniment Who Were You (with its guitar on twang and an organ leaning into Procol Harum territory), there’s a genuine sense that the comforting dark of night has a question or two for you.

Even as you take these moves as a given though, McQuade takes detours that play with the same elements and our expectations. A frolic arrives when Take Me To The Moon mixes ‘70s disco into a ‘60s bachelor pad, parping brass and piping Parisian vocals ahoy, while Snow snakes woodwind like a charmer, as it deploys a heavy-leaning orchestra against harpsichord-like keys.

These two tracks buttress Find My Way Home, a halfway house between light and dark, between Julie London and Julee Cruise, that is evocative without a heavy hand.

A composer and bass player of fluidity and groove (some of you may have first encountered her upfront and funky a few decades ago in Deckchairs Overboard), McQuade is not at first a prominent singer at any point on this record. However, if the vocals seem underplayed on early listens, further exposure reveals them to be at just the right point of nearness/distance or committed/insouciant, for these songs.

Nicely done. Elegant in all the right ways and dark in the right places.


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