Anna Calvi is a London rookie whose blood-red lips serve as the last line of defence against her voice – a deep, throaty swirl of gothic drama, only intensified by her moody guitar. When speaking, Calvi is whisper-quiet shy, but give her a spotlight, mic and a guitar, and she unleashes vocals that are commanding in every quaver. Brian Eno called her the biggest thing since Patti Smith, Nick Cave snapped her up as an opening act for Grinderman’s tours, and Calvi is oft-mentioned in 2012’s many “ones to watch” lists – including our own.
After a stint as the slide guitaring front-woman for the band Cheap Hotel, which released one single (“New York”) in 2008 and faded from view, Calvi spent two years in her basement concocting a distillation of her most precious influences – the earthy soul of Nina Simone and Maria Callas, the ethereal beauty of Ravel and Debussy, and the out there freakiness of Captain Beefheart and Jimi Hendrix. The result, her self-titled debut album from 2011, is of stormy gems, by turns, achingly intimate (the romance of “First We Kiss”) and powerful with a raw, obsessive bent (“Suzanne and I”).
Bridging the gap between PJ Harvey (Harvey cohort Rob Ellis is co-producer) and Jeff Buckley, Calvi is a skilled mistress of the slow build. The album opens with a sparse instrumental of reverbed surf-ish guitar, and moves from slinky beginnings to finish with a siren-like choir. “Love Won’t Be Leaving” rounds things off with a climactic swirl of violins that fall away to leave the lone drum thudding like a heartbeat. Calvi’s debut is an album to get lost in.
Anna Calvi, Anna Calvi, EMI (CD), R395 (also on vinyl, R1,397). For MP3 downloads, $7.99 (about R430) on iTunes, or $ 3.99 (about R210) on Amazon.
By Kim Taylor Bennett on January 05 2012 6.30pm