Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Amanda Palmer and even Paramore’s Hayley Williams have all carved out niches as individual, unique and sometimes eccentric female singer songwriters. What makes their stuff so compelling is their ability to meld a good tune with angular, edgy and quirky imagery. In each case their poetic narratives make their work three dimensional and invite the listener to take as much ownership as the singer is prepared to yield – and that always comes with a fair slice of blood, sweat and tears.
So it was from this perspective that I took on Plum Green’s first full length album Rushes. The daughter of a ‘Jazz singing Parisian showgirl and a saxo-phone playing Jewish intellectual” Green is quick to make her point of difference known and it’s clearly evident from the Gothic, edgy and provocative photography on her album cover and through her press releases. There’s also a definite ‘indie’ feel in her music, too, and she wears her influences well out on her sleeve. Opener ‘Let Me Go (Nymph-O)’ feels very much like a Hayley Williams cover, and the hook laden ‘Night Terrors’ could be a discard from Victoria Girling-Butcher (Lucid 3). ‘Winter Rain’ and later ‘Everlasting Sleep’ reminds me of my own personal favourite indie fairies, Julianna Hadfield (especially Hadfield’s track ‘President Garfield’). However, by track 5, ‘Currency’ we finally see the spark. This utterly magical little tune, with its simplistic guitar lines and understated choral harmonies reminds me of the early promises of Jewel’s first album: innocent, uncommercial and sincere.
Again reading the publicity, I’m reminded Green wants to portray herself as a “mischievous, sweetheart story teller”. I’m not sure about that. If you compare her to say, Rod Stewart, at his early sol peak, then she has a way to go. However, as a confident and reflective young woman these early paens of love and betrayal, corruption and hope are all the universal themes of an singer in the early stages of her career. Subjects of self imposed mind bondage (‘Pure Sickness’), escapism, Medussa and sexual entrapment and self deprecation (“Little Black Pain”) are the stock standards of the gothic arts and well expected here. Alas such cliché’s wear thin a bit too quickly as the second half of the album wears on – as do Green’s nasal vocals, which shine in the more delicate moments, but so much when the crescendos come. And they come too often toward in the third quarter with ‘Little Black Pain” and ‘Baby Bird’ being almost facsimiles of each other and of many other mainstream vampire whine-alongs. But all is recovered with the finale: ‘Kyla’s Walking’ – another simple Kilcher-styled tune hanging together by the barest of understated medieval chords and a late run up with the band in the final moments. Rushes shows promise and I’m encouraged by Green’s potential. I’m not sure she’s found her own voice yet. But given time, she’ll be one to watch. Give her support, she deserves it.