Monday, July 2, 2012


A captivating and powerful album, but completely opposite of the cliched Smith caricature from her art/punk beginnings, and that memorable Gilda Radner spoof, Candy Slice.  This is a hushed, beautiful series of emotional and lovely tunes for the most part, including some of the most beguiling vocals of her long career.  It's also a stunning artistic achievement, Smith combining a variety of influences, including painting, film, literature, nature, grief, loss, and Johnny Depp (guesting on drums and guitar on one track, I kid you not).

Now I know I'm not supposed to review the liner notes, but it's a rare essay that can explain and enhance the listening experience.  Her notes on the journey that brought the album about are just as fascinating as the songs, and give you clear insight into what they're about.  Plus, it's just plain bizarre that the voyage began on the ill-fated Costa Concordia, albeit a couple of years before it infamously sank on Italy's coast.  Hearing how she and her band soak up rarefied situations that ooze art at its most creative, and turn it back into these inspired songs helps us understand just how committed they are to the process.  I digress, but really, I'd buy this CD just to get the booklet.

The lovely April Fool is a prime example of the soft and rich music that dominates Banga.  Electric piano is the dominate instrument, along with some gorgeous guitar filigrees courtesy of guest Tom Verlaine.  Smith coos her way through this story, inspired by 19th century Russian romantic writer Nikolai Gogol.  As high brow as that might be, just as lovely is This Is The Girl, written for Amy Winehouse after her passing.  Fuji-san is sent out as a letter of love and support to the people of Japan after the earthquake and tsunami, a prayer to their holy mountain for protection.

Sometimes the old raucous poet comes through, when Smith gets tough.  The title cut comes from another Russian writer, Mikhail Bulgakov, and this time his classic novel The Master And Margarita requires more vigour, even a barking dog.  It's all fascinating, with the only exception the lone cover on the disc, a very odd choice.  Wanting an environmental theme, she chose Neil Young's After The Gold Rush to close the album, but it's so different and familiar, it stands out like a sore thumb.  Everything else?  Peachy.

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