Beatrix Players is a London-based female trio comprising Amy Birks (vocals), Jess Kennedy (piano, flute, backing vocals) and Amanda Alvarez (cello). The trio takes its name not from the usual derivation (“she who makes happy”) but from the Latin “viatrix” (traveller). The classical sound of piano and cello – with occasional augmentation by Anna Jenkins (violin or viola on three tracks) or Robyn Hemmings (double bass on two tracks) – is surprisingly full and expansive. Somewhat akin to Heg & The Wolf Chorus perhaps, but less thrusting in the main, indeed sometimes sweeter – and with no percussion of course – despite all of which there’s no lack of drama in their music. But it may turn out to be something of an acquired taste.
The trio’s elegant, minimally florid sound operates at what the press release describes as “the interface between folk, singer-songwriter acoustica, prog and quasi-classical baroque chamber-pop”: an accurate assessment, as it turns out. My immediate response – as I’m sure will be yours too – was to invoke an all-too-ready comparison with Kate Bush – certainly on the defiant opening track Rushlight (both in the piano work and the obvious vocal department), then continuing on Never Again, Not For The First Time and Walk Away in particular. But Amy’s singing, though sometimes uncannily soundalike, stops short of replicating or imitating the eccentric wuthering (swooping and diving) that marks Kate out, and as a result Amy’s easier to accommodate since she enables the lyrics to be heard.
These (all songs being self-penned, credited to the trio as a unit) typically concern big affairs – relationship issues, moments of crisis and suchlike – and close study will reveal them to be both inspiring and intelligently crafted. Some, such as Lady Of The Lake and Roses, use specific historical models to draw parallels of experience down the ages, while Never Again takes the doughty resolve of the Brontë Sisters as a role model for how to avoid repeating past mistakes. The ambiguity of empowerment is addressed in Obey Me. While Unpolished Pearl is altogether jazzier in feel, partly due to the momentum provided by the adoption of a swifter tempo. And on songs like Mole Hill, the trio seems to derive inspiration from the new-classicism of Michael Nyman on one hand and the performance artistry of Laurie Anderson on the other. When the Kate Bush comparison is not uppermost in the ear, there’s a tendency for the listener to recall Tori Amos – albeit stylistically and not with any specific songs in mind. All of which, together with the constant, insistent layering of voices and instrumental colours, while demanding closer listening (which is good of course), also makes it trickier to assess the songs for their own sakes. Which leads me onto the real sticking point (I stress, for me personally) – which is that the music of the Beatrix Players is almost too classy (in the classic-romantic sense, almost too good to be true), and it arguably needs more in the way of light and shade (especially, perhaps, dark shade) to point up more of the latent emotional power of the lyrics.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Jim Moray’s responsible for the expert mixing of the record, so top audio quality is assured for this exquisite and sophisticated music that demands – and receives – a careful balance.
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