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EP review: Brooke Sharkey “I Crossed The Line” (FRUK)

May 19, 2014

Brooke Sharkey - I Crossed The LineI Crossed The Line, the new EP from the London based singer-songwriter Brooke Sharkey has been keenly anticipated by her fan base pretty much since the release of her critically-acclaimed debut album, One Dress, in 2012. Brooke has spent much of the intervening eighteen months on the road with her band (Adam Beattie on double bass and backing vocals, Leander Lyons on electric guitar and Barny C Rockford on drums), touring extensively in the UK with occasional forays into Europe.

Since she began busking in her teenage years, playing live has been the backbone of her musical career and the experience has clearly helped her to hone her sound and refine her songwriting. Having been raised between France and England, Brooke is no stranger to a semi-nomadic life and from this background she brings a unique perspective which is reflected in the sound of her new record.

An air of cosmopolitan confidence pervades opening track Which Cloud, not least because it’s sung in both English and French; a brave statement in a market where the English language is assumed to be a key ingredient for any musician who aspires to mainstream commercial success. But prospective listeners would be well advised to leave any linguistic and cultural biases at the door and simply listen to this gem of a song with their ears, not their preconceptions. A quiet ballad with a keening pedal steel guitar counterpointing Brooke’s clear, high voice, it effortlessly manages to juxtapose a lush intimacy with a huge sense of space, calling to mind Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Session album.

Title track I Crossed The Line is a slow waltz with a country feel and some delicate harp playing behind a lyrical reminiscence about growing up; Ewan Bleach’s clarinet is a particular highlight. The dramatic Run On Ice opens with whispered vocals over a muted, staccato guitar with Mirabelle Gilis’ violin evoking tangos in faded ballrooms while providing a showcase for the astonishing range of Brooke’s voice, which easily gives both Joni and Bjork a run for their money.

A striking a capella performance by Brooke opens Sailor’s Wife, a colourful tale of, well, a sailor’s wife, anchored by some restless bass and percussion, before a happily unhinged guitar solo heralds an inspired coda featuring an infectious singalong harmony chorus. Closing track Faces references elements of the preceding four songs with a little bit of waltz time, a tightly-knit rhythm section, some lush harmonies, searing guitar and a lyric sung largely in French, yet this potentially disparate mélange works surprisingly well and makes a fitting climax for a record which manages to produce highlight after highlight from beginning to end.

The recent spell of warm and sunny weather has found this reviewer digging deep into her record boxes in search of just the right tune to soundtrack these balmy days and, although it’s been fun to revisit a range of sounds and styles, it’s also left me feeling a little unfocused as regards the perennial question, “What shall I listen to next?”. Brooke Sharkey has made that very easy to answer: I Crossed The Line has tiptoed into my heart and taken up residence at the top of my playlists. The depth and clarity of its musical vision, combined with a uniquely European perspective on Americana and the crowning glory of Brooke’s fabulous voice lift it far above the everyday ordinariness of so much contemporary music and make it an essential addition to any discerning listener’s collection.

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (19 May 2014)

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