Bedouine – Bedouine
Spacebomb Records – 23 June 2017
The last fifty years have seen a trend towards maximalism in popular music. What was once seen as freakish or obscure (Zappa, King Crimson, Funkadelic) is now mainstream (Kanye West) and even artists of folkier provenance – Father John Misty, say, or Joanna Newsom – have not been immune grand statements and huge, orchestral arrangements. While this can yield some pretty fantastic results in the right hands – Newsom’s Ys remains perhaps the single most impressive musical achievement of this young century – it is refreshing to encounter a songwriter whose simplicity of approach and clarity of purpose remain unburdened by excess.
Bedouine – the nom de plume of Azniv Korkejian – is one such songwriter. Her self-titled debut is a triumph of intelligent, unadorned songwriting. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that it was recorded with a hefty cast of contributors, including Spacebomb, the country/soul/folk collective that provides Matthew E. White with his signature sound. With all the analogue polish they provide, it is Korkejian’s singing that shines through the brightest. Opening track Nice and Quiet is a case in point: the laid-back jazzy country-folk of the backing is a frame in which the song can unfold at its own pace, channelling Jessica Pratt, Sheila McDonald and the leading lights of the 60s West Coast folk scene. In fact, whether the backing band is playing jazz, folk, country or death metal is a moot point when the quiet power of the song – an insistent melody, a breathy but assured delivery – is this strong.
The same is true throughout the album. One Of These Days is a straight-up country song, but its writing recalls classic Christine McVie as much as anything else. The gentle orchestral swell of Back To You is a delightful surprise – think Bridget St. John fronting the Moody Blues – but what remains after the song has finished is the Brill Building timelessness of its melody and sentiment. Dusty Eyes is a soul ballad, striking for all its restraint, and Solitary Daughter is simply stunning, slowly coming to life from smoky beginnings, Korkejian’s control is similar to that of the best jazz singers, her lyrics resembling Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell.
Summer Cold is weighty and atmospheric despite its brevity, and there is a dark shimmer to songs like Mind’s Eye and You Kill Me, the latter a reflection of Korkejian’s own rootlessness (and a clue to why she chose the Bedouine moniker). The gossamer-light Heart Take Flight is another pointer towards a well-travelled past and a spiritual and physical restlessness.
If there is such a thing as classic American songwriting, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be embodied on the debut album of a singer of Armenian descent, born in Syria. But perhaps that’s part of the appeal of American song: it is the product of a still-young nation, a place in constant flux. Perhaps the creation of a certain style, a signature sound, is one of the ways it finds its feet and makes its own history. Either way, Bedouine has distilled that sound into its simplest and most powerful parts. Her album is, for want of a better word, classic.
Photo Credit: Polly Antonia