Review Summary: Timeless songs which sound as if they were sung in a cabin perched on the edge of cliff... and they probably were.
Authenticity is a strange phenomenon in popular music. To some, it's a meaningless idea that does not factor in at all when listening to the latest radio offering, for others it's a deal breaker.
Pina's debut offering on Peter Gabriel's Real World label is Quick Look - and the sound of it can be described as authentic. It has that feel of a field recording - one imagines a group of musician friends popping round to her Irish shanty by the sea for a cup of tea, peasant bread and a jam session. Then they'd probably tell stories until late at night and depart for Dublin in the morning - via horseback. All the while a lathe quietly records the proceedings to vinyl in a corner, next to the hand operated sewing machine.
But what style is it? It's folk, to be sure. The sound of a passing storm is captured in one of the tracks (The Flight). Pina plays guitar with a unexpected roughness - scratchy and almost grating in the best possible way. Hardly what one would expect from a classically trained player, she has fresh, distinctive style. Her voice has an attractive weariness - lots of comfortably worn patches can be found in its woody mixture. Like furniture that has been passed down in a family - you can tell there's a history in all of those marks and imperfections.
Opener "I love the way" is a fun, light-hearted stomp through the idea of young love gone wrong - one pictures a gnarled, older woman berating her young charge for pining after some scoundrel. Probably a message that's sadly missing in much of the modern teenage, emo driven pop of today. The percussion has a galloping strut, and the burst of multiple vocal tracks midpoint in the song elevates this from your average folky track. "On a day like today" chronicles a typical argument with one or two wonderfully personal details thrown in and a strong chorus that holds your attention and stays with you.
"The flight" features members of Gomez adding accompaniment as well as a good storm thrown in for measure - considering the careful artifice a band like Gomez cultivates, it's amazing that none comes through in the track. Pina's unusual vocal arrangements never sound like a gimmick - rather a unique enhancement to the songs.
"Cold storm" lifts the tempo with feathery guitar touches and a driving bass line. Pina's quick, decisive vocal line stops and starts unexpectedly and provides the song with a propulsive feel. "Josephine" is the sound of torches at night with its circular piano figure, deep peaks and valleys, and the explosive vocal finish that manages to solidify the mystery inherent in the lyrics.
"Bring me a biscuit" is a beautifully crafted song - the pacing and arrangement ensures it always provides the listener with rewards. Delicate curtains of acoustic guitar mesh with a primitive beat, and the rest of the instrumentation provides an expectant mood not unlike the subject. You can hear Pina means what she is singing, my friend. It's one of the most touching songs I've ever heard that deals with the idea of birth and parenthood - normally topics which make me cringe as a listener (see Creed's nefarious hit "With arms wide open"). The highlight and the shining centre of the album, it chronicles the delivery of Pina's daughter.
The only reason this album does not deserve classic status is the slightly weaker second act - while there is not a song that impels you to skip a track, the last four tend to feel generic in comparison to the opening salvo. "The Tower" does deliver a memorable chorus and the whimsical "Debt song" deftly uses a sparse musical arrangement to deliver a cautionary tale in a grand ole folk tradition.
The album is brief, with no wasted space. The weaker tracks would probably still put many a singer songwriter's work to shame, and Pina sounds like Bob Dylan's more pleasant sister - odd for an artist who counts Jim Morrison as a major influence. Her lean, well-honed songs reflect none of the keyboard theatrics and extended pointless musical passages of the Doors. If you want an album that's an effortless listen, yet still with the inherent depth to move you, then you could do far worse. And it sounds... well, authentic.