Roxanne de Bastion – Heirlooms & Hearsay Nomad Songs
Nomad Songs – 5 May 2017
Most families have stories that are passed down through the generations. They may be exaggerated and embellished with each retelling, but the kernel of truth remains, and the actions of younger generations may be seen as echoes of the past. Many families also have possessions which have been handed down and act as touchstones for these memories. In Roxanne de Bastion’s case, that touchstone is a baby-grand piano bought by her great grandfather as a wedding present for his bride. This album is about that piano, and in many ways, the lives it has touched.
The opening track, Run, begins simply with voice and piano and slowly adds more instruments until it builds to a full sound that sweeps the listener along. It may, in part, be about the plight of people in Europe who were caught up in World War II and its aftermath, but also those around the world who currently find themselves in a similar plight. It has one hell of a catchy refrain, and I challenge anyone to listen to it a couple of times and not still have it in their head for days.
The meaning behind Heart of Stone is less clear, but it builds to pure indie pop that would have festival goers bouncing up and down with their hands in the air!
If Run is about people making journeys across Europe, then Train Tracks is about Roxanne’s own journey. It features the baby-grand piano in question, played by her father, Richard de Bastion, but it is the lush layers of Roxanne’s voice that send a shiver up the spine.
Born in Berlin, Wasteland is Roxanne’s commentary on the way that history is being hidden, in this case by the dismantling of a remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall to make way for a hotel.
I get the feeling that the running order of the album was built around the desire to release this both on cd and vinyl. On that basis, Within, is the perfect ending to side one; an up-tempo number with echoes of the psychedelia of the 1960s.
All that Remains, a song from a member of one generation speaking to a descendant even though they have never met, carries the line that provides the title of the album. ‘Be this all that remains, Heirlooms & Hearsay.’ A deceptively simple song which somehow manages to carry a powerful message.
There will from time to time be arguments and disagreements in any relationship, and sometimes we allow them to hurt more than they should. Thicker Skin advises of the need not to take them to heart.
Unwind is about being stuck in a pattern that it’s hard to break out of. The electric guitar solo by Matthew Reynolds put me in mind of Robert Fripp’s contributions to David Bowie’s Berlin period work. At first, it seems at odds with the rest of the arrangement but on second listen it actually works really well.
The Painter is a big, powerful song which seems to owe something to the Phil Spector sound with a heavy echoing drum beat driving it along.
In some ways, Rerun is a companion piece to the opening track, but here Roxanne is not singing about running away from something, but rather not knowing where to run to.
The album closes with The Old Mill, a piano piece written and performed by Roxanne’s grandfather Stephen de Bastion on the baby-grand piano, and recorded on a ferrograph in 1954. A real heirloom to be treasured.
This album is more than a collection of songs; it’s a recording of possibilities, a showcase for what Roxanne’s voice is capable of as they dance between modern folk and a more rock-tinged sound. There are brief moments when certain vocal inflexions remind me of the late Karen Carpenter, and that’s no bad thing, but Roxanne has a voice that does not rely on trickery. These songs may be augmented by some terrific musicianship, but will still hold up with just Roxanne’s voice and guitar. Or maybe a piano…
Heirlooms & Hearsay Nomad Songs is Out Now. Order it here: http://www.roxannedebastion.com/