Lisa Bassenge ‘Canyon Songs’ (MPS) 4/5

lisa-bassengeThe re-activated MPS label out of Bavaria has plenty of classic re-issues already out in Germany as well as forthcoming, but is not content to sit on its laurels and is indeed actively promoting new talent. Singer Lisa Bassenge is one such example and her entertaining foray into singer-songwriter territory is significantly aided by having gone over to L.A. and recording with top sessions musicians. Coming along for the journey is trumpeter Til Brünner who adds some lovely jazzy touches to proceedings and overall a relaxed West coast vibe has been created and is totally authentic. An atmospheric opener in ‘Rider on the storm’, a Doors original, is given a light, dreamy treatment and this suits the vocalist’s own range and she sounds something between Astrud Gilberto (albeit in a non-bossa vein) and Rickie Lee Jones who has clearly been a major influence with two of the latter’s songs featured on this album. One of the strongest numbers is the gentle strut of ‘Her town too’ and the rhythm section is at its glorious best here with guitar riffs and Hammond organ making this as especially memorable rendition. Steve Tavaglione stands out for his efforts on both soprano saxophone and keyboards and it is on the former that he accompanies Bassenge on the layered textures of ‘The same situation’. For a left-field choice of song, Shuggie Otis’ ‘Aht uh mi hed’ is a prime contender and for further variety the dub-reggae feel in the intro works a treat. Tom Waits is another musician that Bassenge has listened to repeatedly and of his two offerings covered here, the clubland feel and funkier groove to ‘All stripped down’ features a winning combination of guitar, brass and programming. In marked contrast, the second Waits composition, ‘Blue Skies’ showcases a different side to Bassenge with a country-blues vibe permeating on dobro and Würlitzer. Compositions from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Stephen Stills make up the remainder and with producer Larry Klein on board, one cannot help but make comparisons with the likes of Madeleine Peyroux in terms of appealing to a wider audience and spanning the spectrum of roots music. Previously, Bassenge has recorded both in a funk vein with the likes of Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley, while in a more orchestrated jazz idiom she has performed with the WDR Big Band. These multiple experiences have served her well and the intimacy of the musical accompaniment here allied with the quiet introspection of the vocals is one of the reasons this album works as well as it does. It will be interesting to follow whether Lisa Bassenge at some point contributes her own songs on future recordings. For the time being, this will do just nicely.

Tim Stenhouse