Katie Melua featuring Gori Women’s Choir In Winter (BMG)
When our I last touched base with my friend Katie, at a recent TV recording she seemed enthused about her forthcoming UK tour with the Gori Women’s Choir, in support of this brand new album release. Never really fitting into the standard female pop singer mould, Melua has always had access to and more importantly used the wide medium of music to work with full orchestrations, sparse and minimal lineups, choral projects and melodic electronica. Hence this back-to-basics oeuvre should surprise nobody in being different again but still based around her vocal style which could be portrayed as Pan European given her time in the UK, general travels and of course her roots in Georgia. One could surmise that she is more inspired by Joan Armatrading and Joni Mitchell than, say. Madonna. Additionally she is by her own placement free of the need to up the outrage level constantly, which has trapped Miley Cyrus and moreover Lady Gaga at times. The artwork for the collection has the air of a vintage Christmas greetings card. Choral arranger Bob Chilcott has found of way of capturing this ambience in the music itself. Perhaps delicate power is what we are speaking of with this set of recordings and of course the immediate trap is not to settle into a worthy but po-faced series of songs that one would only want to play in Christmas week. Even some of the best choral ensembles can when recording almost unwittingly put head before heart, achieving pristine presentation but maximum chill. This is a 24-member all-female group, thus any emotion should be within grasp ; hence we are down to material selection and on to the tracks …… The Little Swallow plunges us into a weave of clear voices, cooing the introduction til what sounds like a young voice leads the listener onwards. Try hearing this without sensing the gentle fall of snowflakes! It’s a traditional Ukrainian New Year Carol and thus not as familiar as Roy Wood or Slade. More’s the pity, eh Morrisons? River has Melua intoning a seasonal folk standard in Joni Mitchell’s River and it occurs that this lineup could just as well deliver Nick Drake’s River Man with similar finesse. The gentle acoustic guitar works well and the production skills of Adam ‘Cecil’ Bartlett’ and steering of Tim Harries taps into this asset to best effect, ie it is there but not dominant. Perfect World is a tuneful wisp of a song that has an easy motion enhanced by the chorale and jazzer Neil Cowley’s thoughtful piano ;  Cradle Song is another airy choir feature and apparently a Romanian carol, taking your head back a century or more. A Time To Buy is a lighter smile of a number about retail therapy, painting a picture of malls and weary feet.  Add a brass band to this and you have a Christmas single! Lonesome whistling ushers in Plane Song – nice wordplay in this context – takes us to a past of battered air transport laid up. Lyrical input from Don Black. Maybe the best cut on this set, the delivery is firm and subtly springheeled ; If You Are So Beautiful, easily the best melody here for originality and is a Georgian piece, the choir bringing a coasting warmth that envelopes the ears. It also sounds unbearably sad. Dreams On Fire is a Don Black lyric and Melua tune, centring on maintaining relationships but I confess to not quite getting its intent. There again, Gary Brooker of Procol Harum cannot explain the lyric of A Whiter Shade Of Pale! All-Night Vigil – Nunc Dimitis is fully explained in the handsome book-style presentation and gives us Rachmaninov at his most affecting, starry-night choral and all; O Holy Night might be the most familiar to UK listeners and here given a falling leaves delivery rather than anything raucous. And I have heard raucous… Beautifully-recorded, put together with some imagination, calming but uplifting..it is hard to imagine that the creators of this album would be in any way displeased at the results as heard here. You do wonder what this artist and this choir might make of a Spring-Summer collection of songs? Glenn Sargeant


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Katie Melua featuring Gori Women’s Choir’s new album ‘In Winter’ is out now on BMG. For tour dates and more information visit her official website here: www.katiemelua.com  (Many thanks to Katie, all of the team at Republic Media and Pete Sargeant for help with this review)