Anjana Vasan – Too Dark For Country (EP)
Folkroom Records – 6 October 2017
The bijoux label, Folkroom Records, run by writer and promoter Stephen Thomas, and musician Ben Walker have been a bit light on releases recently, concentrating on their fortnightly music sessions held at The Harrisons in Kings Cross. Too Dark For Country, a four-song EP by actress/musician Anjana Vasan is their first release in three years but it’s been well worth the wait.
Vasan, raised in Singapore, has forged a successful career on screen and stage here in the UK but she’s also been a regular at the label’s music shows and grew up on a diet of blues music. The four songs here reflect this interest in the blues and in particular singers like Bessie Smith. Vasan’s vocals are strong and agile, able to bellow and tease with equal ease. With Ben Walker producing and adding guitar, the songs are all excellent recalling Greenwich Village, delta blues and confessional singer-songwriters.
Oh Sister opens the EP with Vasan hollerin’ from the Delta before the song slips into what is probably a unique combination of Bobbie Gentry and The McGarrigles. Here she deconstructs the familiar “good woman done wrong by an evil-hearted man” trope urging her sisters to learn from their forebear’s mistakes. She has an arresting lyric, “You love like a martyr, wear your heart like a suicide vest,” which just cuts to the chase. An excellent song.
Outsider Blues has Walker’s slide guitar snaking throughout it as Vasan sings of her own experiences of racism – a city boy rolling her name around his tongue as if he couldn’t figure out its sound. The song recalls the sixties sound of Bruce Langhorne wending his way through a Dylan acoustic ballad while Vasan’s voice is as rich, thick and sweet as molasses.
There’s a bit of light relief in her paean to Key Lime Pie which again harks back to early sixties folkdom with its light-hearted lyrics and playful vocals, a nod to more innocent days perhaps but the closing song is of a darker nature. The Ballad Of Richard Morgan is a dark and slow bluesy lament with Vasan taking on the character of the title who was Bessie Smith’s lover and who was driving the car the night of Smith’s fatal accident. She tells of him listening to Smith and reliving the event, the cracked bones and blood of the night, “When my lover sings, fingers gouge at my eyes.” It’s a chilling listen as Vasan inhabits the blues.
On the evidence of the four songs here, Ms. Vasan is a very fine singer and songwriter and she recalls at times the authenticity and freshness of Hurray For The Riff Raff‘s Alynda Segarra’s early rootsier efforts.
The record can be pre-ordered now for £5 on the Folkroom Bandcamp page here and tickets for Anjana’s album launch can be booked here. The event, at The Slaughtered Lamb in London on October 7th, will see a headline set by Anjana herself, and a support slot from the immensely talented Folkroom alumnus Robin Elliott.’
Photo Credit: Nigel Lupton courtesy of Folroom Records