Sophie Bancroft with Louis DurraSophie Bancroft with Louis Durra
Album: Songs
Label: Lisaleo
Tracks: 14

Sophie's 2010 album Bird Of Paradise was the first of her records that I became aware of, and after an initial short period of feeling gently stunned I found it nothing short of completely captivating. Scottish-born Sophie has been classed as an acoustic-folk singer-songwriter, although she has a jazz family background, so she draws influences from both disciplines as well as from the worlds of indie and more hardcore traditional. Sophie's choice of material, own compositions included, tends to focus on a "look at life's cameos from a feminine perspective". She confidently presents her own musical voice, which seems to major more nowadays on a distinctly jazz-inspired, slightly torchy-inflected brand of confessional folk expression. This mode is definitely predominant on Sophie's latest offering, no doubt largely owing to the joint billing with her collaborator, pianist and arranger Louis Durra (rather perversely, you might think - that is, until you hear it - one of the tracks on Songs is an instrumental rendition of the earlier album's title song! … and then it emerges that Louis has been making instrumental transpositions of Sophie's songs for a couple of years now).

Sophie's singing voice is classily pure, accomplished and very attractive, intimately supple and defiantly expressive when it needs to be, with shades of Kirsty McGee I thought, even Thea Gilmore perhaps, every bit as much as singers more overtly in the Peggy Lee mould. She has a knack of wrapping her voice round the lyrics in a way that speaks directly and personally to the listener, caressing and soothing but not neglecting the feistier emotional moments. She gets to the heart of her own songs, of course, and the majority of the tracks here are in that category, but even more extraordinary is the way she penetrates to the exactitude of other writers' material: her interpretation of Dolly Parton warhorse Jolene is brilliant, while she turns Rowland Salley's magnificent Killing The Blues into a softly swaying Tennessee waltzer (quite literally killing the blues by making it triple-time!). And her piquant, pithy take on the traditional John Anderson My Jo is both inspired and insightful. Sophie's vocal skills are paramount, of course, but even more germane to this album is the tremendous feeling of symbiotic responsiveness between Sophie and Louis, the loose degree of control that enables each to feel free to react to what the other is doing, line upon line and moment upon moment. Sure, the dynamic level rarely raises above mezzo forte; all is cool and controlled, relaxed and companionable - but the result remains emotionally persuasive at all times.

Perhaps the inclusion of rambling, floating instrumental-with-wordless-vocal tone-poem Friday Morning In Ardkinglas takes things a little too far into easy-listening territory, but the remainder of the disc is well worth your investment. Sophie's singing always compels, from the leisurely power of Wait For Spring to the lightly ominous rhythmic phrasing and chilling poise of Field Of Poppies, from the carefree scat through Morrison's Jig, to the achingly beautiful Home, infused with the spirit of her native Scotland, and the absolutely lovely, almost-traditionally-structured I Carried Your Heart… this is perfect late-night listening for a bright spring day (if you get my drift!).

David Kidman