CHERRY PIE 2005/2006
Crossing the spectrum from sparsely haunting to loud and raunchy, Leila accompanies herself on piano and vintage organ with some of New Zealand’s top musicians. This second album was produced by David Long (producer of the year 2001 sound designer for the Lord of the Rings) and has received high acclaim, which only substantiates the awesome talent that is Leila Adu.
‘Adu’s voice combines the ferocity of PJ Harvey and Patti Smith with the raw emotion of Fiona Apple and the unnerving drone of Nico.’ Salient Magazine*****
Reviews of CHERRY PIE
Nick Bollinger National Radio The Sampler, 23 July
Theres something about the piano as an instrument that inspires an entirely different style of song writing from the guitar and the clearest example Ive heard lately can be found in this album.
This is Leila Adu, a Wellington based singer and songwriter of Ghanaian descent whos just released her second album, Cherry Pie. And centred on her percussive piano playing and an astonishing voice theres little I can compare it to.
There are hooks, theres repetition but these are hardly conventional pop songs. Theres something abstract and irregular about them. She constantly challenges your senses with broken rhythms and unexpected tempo and mood. This track, entitled Train, is typical. It leaves the platform in almost metal-ish locomotive feel but once youre on board, youll find the destination isnt the one you initially promised.
Lyrically too, theres something refreshingly unpredictable about Leila Adu. Her songs certainly capture emotions yet studiously avoid the dear diary confessions of so many singer songwriters. Instead, she seems to be writing from inside a range of personas and inhabiting a variety of voices as well.
The line-up Leila Adu employs for these songs is more akin to that of a jazz group with double bass and the incredibly supple drumming of ex-Trinity Roots percussionist Ricky Gooch and with much of the rhythmic riffery supplied, not by a guitar but a baritone sax. Where guitar is used on Leila Adus Cherry Pie, its more as a colour or texture and its played by David Long, former Mutton Bird and recent Dave Dobbyn producer, who also co-produced this album this album and youll find the disc is full of qualities that are fast becoming Long trademarks. Inventive instrumental combinations and bold, edgy mixes but always at the service of the songs, which in Leila Adus case are curiously compelling.
Tessa Prebble Salient, 11 July
It has happened. I have been sent an album from an artist I had never heard of, and have fallen in love with it. The sultry and powerfully emotive voice, semi feminist lyrics and wide ranging sound of local artist Leila Adus second album Cherry Pie, have captured my heart.
Adus voice combines the rough ferocity of PJ Harvey and Patti Smith, with the raw emotion of Fiona Apple and the unnerving drone of Nico. What more could you ask for? Similarities aside, Adu has a unique, far reaching, and captivating voice that is all her own.
Adu combines her already very impressive vocals with a wide range of genres; from jazz and soul, to funk and Latino, she masters them all. Adus voice seems to become one with the instruments as in For a Man where she provides a tone perfect reflection of the baritone sax accompanying her. Her voice doesnt just provide the lyrics, it is one of the instruments.
The instrumentation on the album is incredibly well chosen, and makes each song unique and strong enough to stand alone. The gut wrenchingly beautiful Cecelias Gift combines Adus voice with a haunting running piano, while tracks like Suddenly Lost and Train make the most of the guttural baritone sax.
I realise I am gushing here, but seriously this album is well deserving of some decent gushing. Cherry Pie makes you stop what you are doing and listen. I am finding it hard writing even now as I listen to it. If you are unconvinced by my unadulterated praise of Cherry Pie buy it yourself and see.
John Kennedy The Dominion Post
FROM the opening moments of Walk My Road its clear how far singer Leila Adu has come since her first CD. Her biting lyrics and bittersweet melodies are aglow with a lush intensity. Jeff Hendersons full-bodied baritone sax is pivotal to many of these new songs but its Adus shadowy, powerful voice that gives this music a special resonance. These are provisional, transitory songs; twilight music where sombre, sometimes furious moods unfold in acute focus with little sense of resolution. Overall, Cherry Pie feels much more integrated than her debut. The impressionistic tunes are more powerfully delivered thanks to the presence, sometimes absence of her band. Adus own keyboard playing has grown in subtlety and exerts an influence more sublime. On the haunting Cecilias Gift her piano is a layer of watery melancholy, while on Pedestal it takes on a classical formality that makes the disturbed lyrics and sweet delivery all the more menacing. Like an oil slick, this is thick, viscous music, with an incendiary threat always beneath the surface. It would be difficult to understate the uniqueness of this music, either as homegrown or otherwise. If you havent been acquainted yet with Adu, go do it.
Simon Sweetman The Package 7-13th, July
This is Leila Adus second album after 2003s debut digAhole. I really liked her first album, but it seemed split between pop songs and experimentation. This time around the experience seems more integrated and the songs are stronger as a result. Her tight compositions have places for un-indulgent improvisation and she is constantly challenging herself. Adus voice is capable of a wide expressive range; she goes from deep groans and dirge-like moans to light and catchy pop melodies. Its an album with plenty of secrets. (Surely the best kind of record?) There are moments when Leila and band allow their free-jazz background to dominate the songs but it is done skilfully.
Comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush might seem obvious, trite even. But I feel that compositionally they are valid, more so than vocally. Like Mitchell, Leila likes to put confessional lyrics down against sprawling, jazzy arrangements that roll and undulate. And like Kate Bush she seems intrigued by the chance to allow mysticism and magic in to bite-sized pieces of her music. The result, like Bushs best work, means that the songs are sweet but never sugary.
Back from some time spent in Melbourne, and touring the country to promote this incredibly good new album Leila Adu plays at Happy on Friday July 8. Dont miss her.
William Dart CFM New Horizons, 9 July 2005
Wellington composer and songwriter Leila Adu, whos currently based in Melbourne. I came across her first album, Dig A Hole, two years ago and I had to grasp at names like Patti Waters, Annette Peacock and Carla Blaye for any comparisons at all. At that point., Adu was also an honours student at Victoria University studying under John Psathas.
Adus new album has moved on. Ex-Mutton Bird, David Long, shares production duties with the singer and hes also in the band, together with drummer Ricky Gooch and the surprisingly versatile Jeff Henderson on sax. Ive heard Henderson doing some pretty way out things with his instrument, including making water gurgle in its golden horn. Well, he turns up on Adus title track, Cherry Pie, winding his sax at its most melodious around Adus devious bewitching vocals as she offers a hip take on Aristophone.
Gender issues make quite a stand in this album. The song For A Man, introduced with some far more agro sax from Henderson, opens with shoe cleaning as an act of obeisance. Adu digs deep down into her considerable vocal range and after a while you realise that even the act of performing parallels the message, with the voice carefully following in the ominous authority of her sax partner.
But any notion of obeisance is really in the wishful imagination of the gentleman in question. Its not long before we realise that Leila Adu may be the Antipodean sister of Brechts Pirate Jenny.
As the riff sets in, a familiar sound this from Adus first album, Jenny doesnt really materialise. Theres anger, sure, when the rumbling riffs crescendo their way through the song but Adu keeps the load to herself and theres even a hint of possible escapism in the final lines but just before that, theres the climax, when Adu bursts out with the songs real message. There is no one to hear me cry, she sings, I cry along again. Vocalising with the force and authority and formidable mezzo, standing up for her in a forest of instrumental grind. Its a marvellous moment.
There are songs that dont quite work, such as the relentlessly arty Cecilias Gift with an introductory that produces irritation, rather than any sense of anticipation. Others, like the track Answerphone, despite Adu working through a few changes on her voice, dont quite follow through on the promise of the premise. But just when you think were on a recycling trip, you get slapped over the wrist. The song Pedestal, opens with the same slightly reclusive piano and voice as did Cherry Pie. The chords dont form expected progressions and once again Adus vocals are more fragile than ever. But the second verse doesnt rev up as were led to expect it will. Theres a key stanza in the middle of the song where she sings of her nothingness and her brightness and you find yourself somehow focussing on her vocals alongside wisps from Tom Callwoods bass. Now accentuations and stresses are not what you might expect. Violence and love are chillingly juxtaposed as the song plays through to its end.
If you dont listen to the lyrics of the final song, you might be pleasantly lulled by it all. Adus lullaby waltz presses on for seven minutes, punctuated by a quaint tremeloed refrain of When will I forget? The song has already considered escapism at least once in this album and perhaps despair, however pretty, is now unbearable. Its an epilogue this track, or so Adu tells us with the title The Golden Generation. She pictures images of TV fixation and alien visitors with jokey electronic descant but its a warning. The song opens with an unarguable phrase its no time to fall asleep, and when were about to join her, the warning comes again at a time when we need to wake up, its too easy to put yourself to sleep, why were we born now my friends? was it just to be the ones at the end?