Image © Anne-Marie Helder 2004
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January 2005 Interview and Photos
Tigerdragon Life Stories
(06 December 2004) Visitors To Musical Discoveries will know Anne-Marie Helder from her work with Swansea based band Tigerdragon, and, of course, featured artists Karnataka. She also performs regularly as a solo artist, and has supported rock legend Midge Ure, amongst others.
Her debut solo effort--probably best defined as a six-track mini-album, clocking in at 30 minutes--is called The Contact. It shows off her prowess as a multi-instrumentalist as well as a vocalist, with remarkably varied, yet often sparse instrumentation bringing the excellent songs to life. Anne plays guitar, piano, keyboards, some (barely audible) flute and percussion, while Dave Kilminster and Adam Pain provide solo guitar and bass respectively, as well as recording and mixing duties.
With the exception of the delicious "Exodus," these are all songs based around Anne's acoustic guitar, which allows the most important instrument on the CD--her incredible voice--all the space it needs to show us how remarkable it is. And remarkable it indeed is, passionate, expressive, powerful and yet delicate--often within seconds of each other. She also possesses remarkable range and impressive control. Her vocal performances are simply stunning throughout, and particularly impressive is the variation in vocal tone she brings to each song.
As she is an engaging, likeable, upbeat stage performer, it may come as some surprise that some of the material on this album is haunting, even a little disturbing. The two songs that bookend the album, "Blood Red Sky" and "Murder" are similar in tone, both containing chilling ambient instrumental openings. Lyrically, they both discuss destructive emotions, the first delving into the mind of a madman, the latter widening the subject matter to all those who would do harm to others for revenge. The songs themselves are quite different, the former guitar based and rather lovely, with a dextrous acoustic solo from Kilminster and plenty of vocal pyrotechnics from Anne, while the latter in more aggressive and angular with a shouted, distorted lead vocal.
The exquisite "Exodus" features some still, deeply impressive, minimalist piano and an intimate vocal about post-break up memories and regret. It bleeds emotion and leaves the listener genuinely moved. "Autocratic" is a harder song both in tone and message. It raises the tempo with some looped percussion, a catchy lead guitar break and a soulful vocal from Anne. "Stallions and Nags" is an ambiguous song about addiction of any kind. It drifts along hazily, the sweetness of its melody and Anne's warm vocal masking the slightly sinister tone of its message. "No other lover" continues the sweetness, this time both lyrically and musically, a folky take on pure, romantic love.
Repeated playing reveals plenty of depth in these songs, though a couple drift a little up to five or six minutes when a more concise four might have been advisable. However, Anne is a talented lyric writer, and, combined with her committed singing, has produced songs with the power to get under the skin. Some listeners will be disappointed that there is little here to match the grandeur of Karnataka, but as the first, very personal statement from a talented woman this is hard to fault.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York