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Reviews

Dana Immanuel & the Stolen BandDana Immanuel & the Stolen Band
Album: Come With Me
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.danaimmanuel.com

Well, for a kick off, can't really do better than quote the whole first paragraph from the accompanying promotional material. 'Dana Immanuel is a banjo toting, whiskey-drinking, poker playing singer-songwriter currently operating from a north London hideout from which emerges a sound more usually associated with the bayou, triple filtered through bourbon, washboard, and a touch of alt-country eccentricity'. Whoever wrote was having a fine day at the office!

'Come With Me' is Dana's third album and was recorded 'live-ish' at the Retreat Studios just outside Brighton. It also features her all-girl touring back up Stolen Band who consists of Feadora Morris, guitars and banjo, Maya McCourt cello, single bass and harmonies, Blanche Ellis, washboard, thimbles and vocals and Hjordis Moon Badford, cajon and percussion. Dana herself plays banjo and guitar and of course sings on all the tracks, which apart from the vintage classic 'Viva Las Vegas' were all wrote by her. Lastly, the biography goes on to tell us that the record aims to capture the 'unique and irresistible blues-cum bluegrass - cum Americana -cum rock sound of their live sound'.

Opening track 'Come With Me' swaggers in on a lovely banjo riff, all old timey and bluegrass, before a dirty electric guitar fuzzes things up delightfully. Certainly, nothing polite about this introduction! Throw in a tight, percussive rhythm section, sweet harmonies, clever lyrics and a great chorus and you have a fine opening number. Dana's voice is eclectically authentic and she adapts it perfectly to the feel of each song. On this opener it has a real sense of Joan Osborne circa the 'One Of Us' era, on others more country, Americana, jazz or even rock, but always original and inventive.

'Clockwork' is a faster, more traditional sounding bluegrass song that really rattles along. Again, clever, witty lyrics and some great syncopation give it a completely contemporary sound.

For me, the third track 'Nashville' is possibly the best song on the album. It is slower than the opening two but has a real rhythmic pulse pushing it through and some atmospheric, droney, scratchy strings that add to the pervading feel of barely suppressed anger and hurt. This is mirrored in Dana's vocal, which is beautifully restrained as she sings couplets like 'Fuck that tried and tested track, drown it like a kitten in a sack'. The song builds sweetly throughout and this is somewhat disarming as lyrically it is full of sharp, caustic observations. Definitely a wolf in sheep's clothing this one. It also highlights Dana's strength as a lyricist in a genre of music where the emphasis might ordinarily be focussed solely on the quality of the sound and in whipping up a good time. All of which still happens of course, but nevertheless her words are smart and she can boast a way with a withering put down that Richard Thompson at his acerbic best would be proud of.

'Achilles Heel' is another that chugs along nicely on a choppy rhythm and some particularly effective harmonising throughout, with a sweet, jazzy guitar solo that pops up unexpectedly to great effect. 'Going To The Bottle' has a slower, courtly banjo intro straight out of 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou' territory before proceedings are swiftly disrupted by the dirtiest of electric guitar riffs that sits under Dana's vocal right through the song, forever on the edge of bursting out and taking over.

And so it goes for the rest of the album, the standard never drops, the pace never flags and not a duff track or filler in sight. Accordingly, the last two, 'Motherfucking Whore' and a cover of 'Viva Las Vegas' bring things to a suitably splendid close.

The penultimate song 'Motherfucking Whore' struts in on a banjo riff propped up by some lovely cello and percussion before Dana's vocal enters with more grungy electric guitar layering underneath. This is another that is deceptively sweet with its angelic sounding harmonies, which makes the 'Motherfucking Whore' refrain, come chorus, even more strikingly effective, or shocking, depends how genteel you are about such things! Although completely different musically, it reminded me in feel of the earlier track 'Nashville' where a lot of emotion and intensity was bubbling away just beneath the surface.

The final song is their take on 'Viva Las Vegas', which most people will know from the Elvis Presley movie of the same name. Here it starts with a grungy cello riff before the band and Dana come clattering in on a Johnny Cash type rhythm, with even more sweet vocals and harmonies before it is all over and done in a breathless two minutes ten seconds.

This is real, sassy, in your face, no holds barred music that Dana & the Stolen Band deliver with complete conviction. The Stolen Band add much more than sweet harmonies as they fill out the sound in endlessly creative ways and for a band without a proper drum kit, the rhythm section on cajon, washboard and anything else you can bang on, are a propulsive force of nature.

Lyrically it is very strong throughout and they drop the 'F' bomb without a hint of pretence or affectation and clearly have a winning way with a profanity! However, as liberating as this is, I think it may have been something of a tactical error when thinking of radio play. For me, 'Nashville' and 'Motherfucking Whore' are the two outstanding songs on the album and although I can hear 'Motherfucking Whore' on the sound track to some bloody shoot out scene in a future Quentin Tarantino film, unfortunately it is unlikely to get airplay on Radio 2!

So, great songs, superbly played, with musical nods and references to more genres than you could shake a stick at, yet never once sounding anything but fresh and original. Throw in the immediacy and presence of the recording and you know that what you hear on the album will be pretty much what you can expect to hear live, a very uplifting experience indeed.

Paul Jackson