The Vinyl Anachronist

Monday, March 25, 2013

Anne Bisson’s Blue Mind on LP

Imagine if Diana Krall started attending high-end audio trade shows. It would be pandemonium. The hallways of the venue would fill up with Mrs. Costello’s fans, asking for autographs, snapping copious photos with their iPhones and sending them to their audiophile buddies saying, “See? She’s really here! Too bad you’re not, Hank…neener neener neener!”

Now imagine another female singer, a potential darling of hi-fi nuts as well, arguably even more expressive and talented, her releases even more astonishing in terms of sound quality, walking up and down those same halls without the same fanfare. Well, it’s been happening. Colleen and I have seen a lot of Canadian singer Anne Bisson at these trade shows over the last few months, and I think audiophiles are missing out on a real treat. Ms. Bisson is one of those rare performers who seems to be absolutely thrilled that people are listening to her albums, and she’s more than happy to spend a few moments to talk about her music. While I can’t speak for Diana Krall’s demeanor in the same situation, I do have to say that Anne Bisson is remarkably gracious and grateful. Her enthusiasm and infectious smile are worth the price of admission.

Okay, I know what you’re saying. I’m Krallbashing again. As I’ve said before, I have nothing against her personally; my beef is with her rather snobby audiophile fans who think she’s the lone gold standard for female vocalists. Today’s audiophiles seem to be obsessed with female vocals as the supreme criterion for judging the fidelity of an audio system, while I tend to agree with Profundo distributor Bob Clarke who feels that a grand piano is a more useful tool. (I also find myself gravitating more toward percussion while evaluating gear, but that’s just a personal preference based on my love for great rock drummers.) When it comes to female vocalists, however, I crave someone who veers dangerously away from the norm, someone with an edge that makes them original. I’m talking Halie Loren, whose imaginative cover choices always challenge the more conventional beauty of her singing voice. I’m talking about Holly Cole, who is even more daring in her set lists and knows how to inject a playful attitude into her performances. I’m talking about Madeliene Peyroux, who is funny and self-deprecating and knows how to stand aside and let her band take over the musical adventure for a spell. Anne Bisson belongs in that group.

When we spoke to Anne at the AXPONA show in Chicago earlier this month, she hooked me up with two of her LPs: Blue Mind and Portraits and Perfumes. She asked me to focus on the latter because it consisted of her own songs and was therefore closer to her heart. I haven’t even listened to Portraits yet, so I don’t know if one towers over the other as she seemed to imply. All I know at this point is that Blue Mind is an exceptional pressing of an exceptional performance. It’s important that the sound quality of this LP is so exemplary and so quiet because Anne’s performances are equally quiet and epitomize the idea of a singer being intimate with her audience. This stunning pressing allows her emotional commitment to these songs really shine through; these are her songs in every sense and you can alternately hear the joy, pain and vulnerability in her voice as she sings. It’s one thing for a singer to “make a song their own,” but I’ll always give the edge to the singer-songwriter that has created something this personal.

While these are certainly original pieces (except for Steve Hackett’s “Hoping Love Will Last”), Anne isn’t shy about her inspirations. She started off using sources as diverse as Ned Rorem, Stefano Donaudy, Mozart and Brahms as building blocks for her song structures, but wound up scratching this approach after she delivered the simple and delicate opening track, “Little Black Lake.” These songs are straightforward in their themes of romance, love lost and “what could have been,” but I like the way some of these themes, such as the lake itself, keep re-emerging in subsequent songs. This clearly evokes a specific period of her life and makes the album all the more cohesive and meaningful.

As for her piano playing, she reminds me so much of Kate Bush–not in voice, obviously, but the way her melodies are strong yet sparingly presented in an almost impressionistic manner. Accompanied by Paul Brochu on drums and Normand Guilbeault on double bass, her trio can hide in the shadows and yet leap out and sound full and reassured when it needs to. Again, this is a dynamic, well-recorded album that should impress audiophiles in many ways. Should.

I’m not saying that those audiophiles who perplex me so at audio shows should abandon Diana Krall entirely; those expensive ORG reissues of Krall sound absolutely great and I enjoyed them a lot before I sold them on eBay a few years ago. There are just so many options. I feel like I’m doing a disservice to Anne Bisson by even mentioning any other singers–it reminds me of the hazards of comparing two pieces of audio gear, and how someone has to lose. It’s just that there is so much music out there to enjoy, and it makes no sense to limit yourself. I just witnessed an audiophile saying the following on a music forum: “I’m sixty years old, and if I haven’t discovered a band or a singer already, I probably don’t need to.” My God, I thought. How does someone go through life like that? Discovering new music is one of the rare joys in life, and I’m happy to have discovered Anne Bisson.