Here's the thing. On first play, the machine decided to just start Anna Calvi's album by itself while I was doing something in the next room. Bam! Even fighting its way out through the onboard speakers, this musical emanation just had me straight way, forcing me to dash back, start it playing over, put headphones on and listen, mesmerised. I've been listening ever since.
I was lucky enough to see Anna playing at Jojo's in Soho a couple of months ago and on that basis I've got to say I was expecting good things, but this is way better than I had bargained for. Her guitar playing has echoes of Dick Dale and Link Wray. I knew from that night in Soho that she is impressively accomplished in a technical way but what she manages to get down on record is something that overflows with character rather than clinical excellence. This is never more evident than on 'Desire'. Borrowing and recycling touchstone phrase "only the lonely" it is a warm and beating thing, anything but bereft of feeling. Anna's voice is deep and portentous, somewhat arcane. With her almost operatic phrasing, it's no surprise that when she had the opportunity to add a bonus CD for one of the indie retailers, instead of the usual live offcuts she offered up a selection of favourite classical pieces.
'Suzanne And I' breaks in with drum and guitar in the best rock tradition. There's a nod to a 60s and 70s feel, but very definitely played out in a 2011 sensibility. The other aspect this particular track demonstrates, via its soaring vocal, is an apparent huge self confidence on Calvi's part, not afraid to put her emotion out there for all to see. 'First We Kiss' could be straight from a Tarantino soundtrack - even more so when the sound is joined by subverted choirs of heavenly angels on backing vocals. 'The Devil' starts out as flamenco played on an electric guitar, and then the vocal rises, keening, straining, on the verge of discord. Add in the subject matter, and much as I don't wish to be obvious, there's a PJ Harvey comparison that just can't be ignored. Calvi saves it from sounding derivative when she leads off into swoops that are all her own. 'Blackout' is by far the most accessible track, Anna still sounding like herself, albeit somehow a ten year younger version than other moments on this album. 'I'll Be Your Man' has the most intimate vocal on the album, whispered into your ear, over a backdrop that is pure Chris Isaak.
If I've made this record sound like a hotch-potch of influences thrown together, then I have failed. It is entirely her own thing, cohesive and discrete in its creation. At the same time is not afraid to acknowledge history in nuances of what has come before, the road that has led to this spot. Without any doubt whatsoever, Anna Calvi is a considerable talent and this is a debut of some importance.