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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1640

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Eliane Amherd: Now and From Now On
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/11/2011)

The style of women vocalists I like to call the chanteuse has been enjoying some popularity in recent years, going back to k.d. lang in the late 1980s, to Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux more recently. The style of singing that draws on jazz, cabaret and the so-called torch singers of the past, has been attracting growing audiences from those perhaps looking for someone outside of more conventional rock, pop of folk. The chanteuse style is a kind of opposite to energetic rockers, blues or soul singers. But this week, we have an interesting album by an artist who comes from a jazz background but is not afraid to get into rock, blues and funk influence on her debut recording, Eliane Amherd whose new CD is called Now and From Now On.

Eliane Amherd is from Switzerland, where she began to establish her career, but she came to New York and studied at New York's New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, graduating in 2000, and remaining in the city, attracted by the eclecticism the city offered. She was attracted to jazz, Brazilian and Latin sounds, and has been performing in that mix of styles both in New York at venues like the Blue Note and Jazz Standard, and touring extensively in places ranging from her native Switzerland to Mongolia.

Though jazz has been an important influence to Ms. Amherd, and her group includes jazz players and that most-jazz-like of instruments, the vibes, her CD is not what I would call a jazz album. Ms. Amherd plays electric guitar and she does it in a rock and blues style, which influences the direction of the recording. Her band includes two Brazilian musicians, bassist Gustavo Amarante and percussionist Ze Mauricio. Bill Ware is a constant presence on vibes and the drummer is Willard Dyson. The music is original with the exception of a cover of a Tom Waits song, and it runs from samba to funk -- not surprising given the backgrounds of the players involved. Ms. Amherd produced the album herself and did an excellent job of directing the players with their diverse backgrounds, taking advantage of what they have to offer. Ms. Amherd herself is a pleasing vocalist who can span the range of styles she includes on the CD. She is seems most at home on the pieces with tropical influence.

About the only weakness is in the lyrics. As a non-native English speaker, her phrasing may not be at quite the level of some of our best lyricists, but her lyrical ideas are often interesting, and occasionally she will throw in some phrases in other languages such as Portuguese and German.

The relatively short 38-minute long CD opens with the title piece, Now and From Now On, whose influence runs toward funk. And indeed Ms. Amherd plays some James Brown-style guitar figures. The vibes add an interesting touch to the stylistic mix. <<>>

As If is one of several tracks with a kind of tropical influence, and in this case in the lyrics which are set in Rio. <<>>

One of the more appealing songs is called Me Fe Tan Pliji, which is about a river in her native Switzerland, and how it serves as substitute for going to the sea. <<>>

Feel a Little Sorry for Yourself, has a rather interesting lyrical concept one does not often hear in a pop song. It basically gives license for someone to engage in self-pity, but in a light-hearted tropical setting. <<>>

Also rather intriguing lyrically is a piece called Where Is Home, in which the protagonist seems torn between two lovers. The musical setting has the appropriate ambiguous atmosphere. <<>>

Ms. Amherd's version of Tom Waits' Temptation is also imaginative. She gives the song a kind of vamp treatment, and vaguely hints at Tom Waits' vocal style. <<>>

Trust You evokes the mood of a soundtrack for some spy movie, while the lyrics express suspicions about the faithfulness of her significant other. <<>>

Almost exactly the opposite viewpoint is taken on Let Me Explain with lyrics about infatuation put in a kind of samba setting. <<>>

Eliane Amherd's new debut CD Now and From Now On is an enjoyable recording from a Swiss-born singer-songwriter who I suppose could be called another chanteuse. But she is more wide-ranging than many, including more rock and funk influence than typical for the style. Her songs are frequently interesting, and the musical setting with her often rock-influenced guitar, jazzy vibes and the Brazilian-tinged percussion makes for an intriguing combination.

Our score for sound quality is a full grade "A." There is nice clarity on the instrumentation, Ms. Amherd's vocals are generally well-recorded, and there is a nice immediacy to the recording, thanks to a lack of studio effects. The dynamic range is also much better than average, with a blessed lack of excessive volume compression, which is especially apparent from how much of a nice impact the percussion has.

Worthwhile and creative debut albums are for me a particular pleasure for the discovery of emerging artists. Eliane Amherd's new CD is one of those most pleasing finds.

(c) Copyright 2011 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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