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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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The City of My Soul




  1. Kairo
  2. Caravan
  3. Plot
  4. Marionettes
  5. City Of My Dreams
  6. Hey Doctor
  7. Aurora
  8. Well You Needn't
  9. Ugly Beautiful
  10. Red Sailor Girl
  11. Silent Revolution
  12. Singer from Hell
  13. Dizcharmed
  14. Why
  15. Arms against reality
  16. Captain Crunch
  17. Rain in Spain
  18. Happy People
Sophie Dunér and the Callino Quartet


Sophie Dunér is a real one-off. For her latest disc she has been produced by Michael Haas, who has clearly responded to her highly idiosyncratic approach, which is jazz-derived but ultimately transcendent of that appellation. Here her arrangements are performed, as written, by the Callino Quartet, a classical group. The result is a disc of some invention, some peculiarity, but always wholehearted commitment.

A song like Kairo exudes something of Leonard Cohen's poetic sensibility in its lyrics, though Dunér's vocals - part Weimar curdle, part Kate Bush yelp - take some getting used to, a feeling reinforced by the texture of the string quartet which might have been profitably expressionist but instead is rather palidly impressionist. She infiltrates North African sounding curlicues into Ellington's Caravan - not exactly Alice Babs, this-whilst the narrative of The Plot becomes a psycho-dramatic recitative. Something that really suits her basketcase blues ethos, crossed with a touch of Bjork and Gospel, is Marionettes (her lyrics are spellbindingly kooky) though her theatricality seems, on disc at least, frequently overdone. The rock `n' roll groove of Hey Doctor, complete with Hendrix-style fiddle solo again cites marionettes in the lyrics. This inter-referencing is an interesting index of her literary fixations - dolls, inside and outside, surface and reality, a certain streak of cruelty, almost bipolarity. She stretches her jazz chops again on Well You Needn't though it remains disappointingly scat-lite.

Her bizarre narratives and her off-kilter persona are always intriguing though sometimes off-putting; her weirdly pitched vocals similarly something of an acquired taste. She seems to infiltrate show tune-like ideas, as well as Weill parlando updated in Captain Crunch. The lyrics are again about surface and reality, and the nasty story, about a killer, is both melodramatic and also underwhelming. For real menace you'd need to turn to something infinitely more allusive and subtle - something like Randy Newman's In Germany Before the War. It's also about a child killer, but approaches the matter with devastating nonchalance. She lets herself go in You - which is mad, but fun. I wish she'd let herself go a bit more often, without taking things to excess.

The Swedish singer songwriter is a protean artist. She's far more engaging and wacky than most artists around, albeit sometimes problematically so. As I listened, my review page became littered with comments on possible influences, stylistic affiliations, but after the ones noted above - and there are many more - I gave up and tried to listen to the coiled, contradictory, emotionally complex, rather fascinating creature that is Sophie Dunér.

Jonathan Woolf

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