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Reviewers: Tony Augarde, Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Songs Eclectic [30:05]

Robot In Love - Sophie Dunér

Slippery Slope - Gene Pritsker/ Erik T. Johnson

Sophisticated Love - Sophie Dunér

Funeral Blues - Gene Pritsker

Beating Pulse - Sophie Dunér

Wake up World - Mark Kostabi

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday - Gene Pritsker

Dizcharmed - Sophie Dunér

Sophie Dunér (voice) and Gene Pritsker (guitar)

Available as a download available from Bandcamp

Sophie Dunér’s album title reflects her own very personal vocal qualities, which range widely across the kind of stylistically hermetic boxes within which most other artists feel constrained. For Dunér, clearly, they are nothing more than needless limitations. Try the first track, her own piece Robot in Love in which over the crisp accompanying lines of the fine guitarist Gene Pritsker, she unleashes elements of sprechstimme motored by her gymnastic inclinations. The result is part-Bop, part-Cabaret, added to which one encounters very high vocalese and raspy low-down scat singing. The second track sees a very different singer, a conversational, interior musician musing expressively with an overdubbed vocal and some percussion to be heard – whose, I’m not sure, as I’m working from a CD-r.

One thing that can’t be denied is that she is a remarkable storyteller in her songs, her vocals marshalled to the songs’ core, using every device available to vest liveliness and sensibility to her music-making. In Sophisticated Love the variety of influences ranges from Ella to Schoenberg via folklore and Weimer cosy corners. A distinctive feature of her singing is recourse to its upper register and in a defiant hardening to coarseness – hear an example of the latter in Beating Pulse; these guttural outbursts take on so histrionic a quality, so self-absorbed, that she seems to will up a commedia dell’arte presence in her singing; this is a singer who acts with her voice, contorting and fashioning it to her will.

Perhaps my favourite track is Mark Kostabi’s Wake up World with its sense of conversational intensity and the excellent interplay between the two musicians; deft music-making all-round. By contrast, the catchy ethos of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, a Pritsker original, is all whoop and yell, an entertaining piece that had me thinking of Tom Waits’s burlesque routines. For all her eclecticism Dunér never abandons the sometimes tortuous blandishments of a good pop melody, something the last tracks shows well enough. There’s a not-quite-sublimated rough romanticism to her persona and musicianship, though it’s often refracted through extremes. If you come to Dunér you have to meet her on her own terms.

Jonathan Woolf

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