Poggy's Woman album
The eleven tracks combine elements of 60s French pop sophistication, 80s jazz-pop (Style Council, Everything But The Girl, etc.) and touches of 90s triphop, Poggy's lyrics dealing with many aspects of womanhood, underlined by her striking vocal strength and confidence, ranging from Sade-like silkiness to the fierce authority of PJ Harvey. The whole thing is propelled along by superb drumming from her husband James and infused with the versatile twin guitars of Phil Self and her brother-in-law Dave Hatton, the latter bringing moments of Marc Ribot-style rawness and angularity to nicely offset the underlying sweetness of the record. Like the album's bassist, Billy Glynn, Phil and Dave are former bandmates of Poggy and James in Cocos Lovers, Smugglers' flagship band.
The rootsiness brought by the Cocos-and-friends crew is effectively contrasted by Richard Bundy's subtle 21st century production touches which at times bring to mind Stereolab or Radiohead (the dubbed-out section in "Memory" is particularly effective). Poggy's recent experience of singing with East Kent's Afrobeat/Ethio-jazz collective Volume 13 (also featuring several of the players on this album) is in evidence: there are some nice Afrobeat touches in the drumming and the choice of vintage keyboard sounds. Best of all are the harmony vocals (mostly Poggy harmonising with herself, but also with contributions from her sister Tasha and violinist Hetty Pound). These run through the album like interweaving veins of precious metal through a rockface. Her ability to put together vocal harmony arrangements like these, let alone sing all the parts the way she does, is particularly impressive. Her deep musicality is further demonstrated in her flute, accordion and cello contributions to the record.
"Need to Change", with its twitchy drum'n'bass-type rhythm, lends itself nicely to some impressive rapping from Oli, a.k.a. MC Kotchin, an old friend of the Smugglers collective (I remember him jumping on stage to spit some bars the first time I saw Cocos Lovers in early 2009). His American-accented R'n'B style of singing (on that track and "You're Alright") isn't quite to my taste, but still doesn't detract. I'm guessing it's also Oli who adds the Bobby-McFerrin-style vocal percussion at the end of the beautiful a cappella "Beautiful Woman". Closing track "Backstreet Blues" make clear the nature of Poggy's contribution to the second Cocos Lovers album Elephant Land (particularly on its standout song "Door to the Andes"). The simple piano lines on "Backstreet Blues" are a lovely touch, and the soulful Soweto-township-style singing feels completely natural, worlds away from the "world music" exploitation of Graceland, etc.
Woman clocks in at a perfect 46m. The warmth in this album's ensemble playing could only have been achieved by a tight friends-and-family group like this. Many of its songs got stuck in my head after a couple of listens and don't seem to be interested in moving out anytime soon...