Image © Stephen Lambe 2004
Photo by Stephen Lambe
© CET Records 2004
Image © Stephen Lambe 2004
(21 August 2004) Claire Toomey EP. Having seen 17 year-old prodigy Claire Toomey perform with a full electric band at Guilfest in July 2004, we were mightily impressed--not just with her songs and voice, but with her maturity and personality. This review of her five-track acoustic EP, entitled "The Overtones Session" released earlier in the year, acts as a taster for further coverage of Claire on Musical Discoveries. Over the next few months, watch out for a review of her first, highly impressive, electric ep, and an in depth interview.
It has often been said that the test of a good song is whether it stands up on its own when played accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano. On these five songs, Claire demonstrates just that. They are played with a minimum of fuss or overdubs--an occasional bass or second guitar is all that are added to the sparse arrangements to accompany Claire's guitar and strong lead vocal. Her voice is interesting--strong and warm, she sings with a refreshingly earthy but charming Southern English accent and a minimum of vibrato. Her vocals are up front but mixed with as little reverb as possible, giving a sparse yet intimate effect. The result--beautifully realised--is that it feels like she is there singing in the room with the listener.
These are not really folk songs--their excellent hooks and contemporary construction place them very much in the pop rock genre--though "Never Would" has some nice folky picking before leading into the song proper. The excellent "Donít Wanna Hate You" is full of anger and has a fuller arrangement, with bass and overdubbed guitar adding to a song reminiscent of Thea Gilmore. "I Believe" is much more folky, with another excellent chorus. The final two songs on the EP will appear in electric versions on the forthcoming band CD. "One Last Look" could easily make Claire famous, a potential hit single given the right treatment, while "World Without Windows" is equally impressive, a great song and a literate lyric.
This is very impressive stuff, leading to the inevitable conclusion that Claire could well be the most promising young singer songwriter to emerge in years. Very good, and more importantly, it is only the beginning.--Stephen Lambe
(26 September 2004) One Last Look. Seventeen year old Croydon, England singer songwriter Claire Toomey's second EP offers considerable development from her first, entirely acoustic offering recorded last year. Here we now have three of her best songs, "One Last Look," "I canít stay here" and "World Without Windows," with a further acoustic version of the final song. Such is the quality of these offerings that any of the three songs could have been chosen as the lead number. The chosen arrangements are tasteful throughout--soft rock, guitar led backing is supplemented by some appropriate keyboards and just the hint of a contemporary sheen. Claire's tight, effective backing vocals add considerably to the arrangements, enhancing her intimate, very English lead vocals without swamping them.
"One Last Look" is glorious, acoustic and shimmering U2-style electric guitar giving way to Claire's edgy vocal, leading into the delightful hook of the chorus. There is a brief echo guitar break at the end of the song, which bodes well for live performance. The backing vocals are especially effective on "I canít stay here," the simple refrain of the chorus bolstered by some effective keyboards, while there are some lovely atmospherics on "World Without Windows" and the vocals on the chorus are a delight. The acoustic version of the song is an effective, stripped down version of the same arrangement.
These electric versions are clearly designed to enhance the songs and Claire's voice as far as possible, without the instrumentation being too intrusive and are therefore somewhat neutral and it would perhaps have been nice to hear a ballad on this ep by way of contrast. Ultimately, Claire may have to ask herself some important questions about direction if she is to find a large market for her undoubtedly great songs, but in the meantime let us revel in her considerable talent.--Stephen Lambe