Anna Calvi will release a reworked versions of songs from her Mercury Prize-nominated album ‘Hunter’ on 6th March.
Calvi spent time last year writing the score to the most recent series of popular TV drama ‘Peaky Blinders’. It is known she is working on a fourth album but she has also opted to rework seven of the tracks on ‘Hunter’, renaming it ‘Hunted’ (the reason for that isn’t yet clear) and featuring on some of the tracks Courtney Barnett, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julia Holter and Joe Talbot of IDLES.
No, you didn’t misread that, Bristol’s grunter in chief Joe Talbot.
‘Hunter’ in case you haven’t heard it, is a pointed exploration of sexuality and gender conformity. Some of the content, particularly the title track, is pretty explicit (the video definitely is) while other tracks soar majestically or are delicate ballads, several of them featuring Calvi’s blistering guitar playing.
As a critic (and even allowing for the fact I’ve been a Calvi fan for a decade) I rated it one of the top albums of 2018 and awarded it 10/10 in the review.
Which brings me to the question, why has she done this? Why water down a piece of work that is rated so highly? Because tinkering with songs in this manner always risks that eventuality.
A cynic would suggest it that it has come at the prompting of her label, or management, who know when they are on to a good thing financially. Or perhaps that it is somehow tied in with forthcoming appearances in the U.S., (including Coachella) where she hasn’t played for a while, but where she is revered in the trendy pansexual clubs of New York and Los Angeles.
Anna Calvi herself is adamant that the idea arose out of her listening to the original demos she made of ‘Hunter’ tracks in her attic studio, during a break in touring, which led to the notion of re-recording these raw versions with her favourite singers. I’m quite happy to defer to that.
First up, as a taster, is ‘Don’t beat the girl out of my boy’, a song which is as gender-bending as you can get, and which she played at the Mercury ceremony last October. It should have won her the prize on its own. This one features Courtney Barnett.
Now I’ll lay my cards on the table. I am not a Courtney Barnett fan. I don’t dislike her but reckon she’s over-rated. But I’ve got an open mind.
Despite that, I really don’t think this works.
It’s slowed down a little, the guitar is slightly more to the fore at the beginning and there’s a little distortion added. That’s about all there is to say. It sounds like a demo, even a rehearsal for a demo, and it plods. What does Courtney bring to the table? I can’t hear anything of note. Even though “the tracks are rawer…and…distilled to their bare essence” it lacks all the dynamism of the ‘Hunter’ version and in parts is anaemic.
Compare the two below.
‘Hunter’ version. I’ll use the Mercury performance; it’s identical to the recorded version.
The other comment I’ll make is that Anna Calvi is a band. Take away Mally Harpaz and Alex Thomas and you lose a lot more than you will gain from whoever it is you are recording with.
Having said that, I’m looking forward to hearing what she concocts with Julia Holter. The main reason is that I think Holter is the only one of this quartet who is in the same league as Calvi. It also intrigues me which track they will duet on. I was angling for ‘Indies or Paradise’ or ‘Swimming Pool’ as both would suit Holter and I just discovered it is the latter.
As for Joe Talbot, the mere thought of it is giving me nightmares. He’s on ‘Wish’, which is my favourite album track.
‘Hunted’ is set for release on March 6th
Anna Calvi will play a special show at London’s Windmill as part of Independent Venue Week – she is this year’s ambassador – this week. It will be preceded by an intimate 50-person BBC 6 Music session (see her Facebook page to enter a competition for tickets).
After that, roll on album #4 Anna, and that Mercury that the law of averages says they have to give you one day.