Anna Calvi, <i>One Breath</i>.

Anna Calvi, One Breath.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Even when she whispers, Anna Calvi projects. I don't mean she is always loud or in your face; not at all. In fact one of the pleasures of this second album is how the quiet can stalk you.

A song such as Sing to Me can enter as something like a David Lynch scene - hinting at disturbance to come and leaving the details to your imagination - and stays just this side of creepy. Calvi's croon and the suddenly swelling strings almost lull you into forgetting to check over your shoulder. (Which makes the galloping introduction to the following song, Tristan, a shocking series of smacks to the face each time the floor toms are hit in the first few seconds.)

What I'm suggesting is that you are never unaware of her presence. First of all, her potential for power as exemplified in that voice, which must belong to someone twice her size and half her delicacy, and yet is never completely unleashed. Instead, it is kept as a provoker and prodder.

Then there's the contrast to that power, her vulnerability, which is never weakness but rather a willingness to admit strength is often a facade and control an illusion.

''Falling in love is having absolutely no control and actually happiness, I find there is something a bit scary about it,'' she says. ''You're like this light feather, where you don't know where you are going to go and there is a feeling of never knowing when it's going to end.''

Calvi's guitar-playing plays to these ideas, too, on an album which goes further than the mix of Morricone and a blasted Roy Orbison that dominated her impressive debut. In Love of My Life, it tramps heavily, fuzzed up and matching her distorted voice until it flies off the handle in a two-fisted solo.

In the title track, the guitar is almost off-stage and creeping further away but yet it never actually leaves, so that when the symphonic crescendo comes in, all American pastoral, you still feel its shadowy presence.

If the generally unsettled nature underlying many of the songs could make some uneasy, there are still opportunities to be drawn in with fewer qualifications attached. We're not talking outright pop songs but beginning with the torch- song-meets-surf-song flair of Suddenly and the operatic sheen of Eliza, which open the album, and the warm bath of Bleed into Me, which arrives near the end, you can enter and leave these songs through the same emotional door.

The thing is, if Anna Calvi is prepared to risk a few bruises, why shouldn't we?


One Breath (Domino)