Sandra MacBeth, ‘Conjugal Scene’
An impressive debut album from Scotland’s own Sandra MacBeth, ‘Conjugal Scene’ is accomplished and ambitious. Accomplished because Sandra and her bandmates play with an assurance that springs from knowing exactly what they’;re about. Ambitious because she and her producer, Felix M von Racknitz, have taken her songs and explored what they’re capable of beyond the sound of one girl and her guitar.
The opening song, Ya Hoe, is presumably much as you’d hear on stage – Sandra and her bandmates bouncing along with Amy MacDonald-like vigour whilst Sandra’s voice catches the ear immediately with her beautifully pure clarity: very reminiscent of Andi Neate in fact. There’s a sprinkling of other songs across the album that come over pretty much as Sandra must have demo-ed them with just the barest of embellishments to beef up the sound a bit; full marks to the producer for keeping it simple and letting the songs breathe. There are two sides to this album, however. On the one hand there is the folk-pop that is enjoyable if unsurprising. On the other hand, there is this jazz-inflected performer who is really quite something with a voice that can reach from that high purity down into the richer, warmer sounds of a lower register, all the while swinging away with the best of them.
With the aid of Douglas Millar’s beautiful piano playing there are some lovely moments here; Eight Ball is slow, regretful and beautifully played. Let It Go moves along more quickly in a jazz shuffle and Sandra’s singing is just great – really feeling the song whilst remaining so relaxed, loose and yet in control. Stand-out song by some distance is Mooneyes: it’s light, joyful and swings easily along with the banjo and accordion out in front. Should be a hit; it calls to mind Fairground Attraction and all it needs is to get onto some radio playlists. Not all the songs here quite come together in a way that would make them memorable but Mooneyes is a class apart.
Three things are going to stick with me from this album: the first is that Sandra MacBeth is a very talented singer with a gorgeous voice; the second is that this Felix guy is a very good producer and the third is that I’ll be listening out for Douglas Millar and his piano whenever I get the chance.