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City of Sorrows

Sandra Bell

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Album Review

City of Sorrows features a new chief collaborator for Sandra Bell — multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Young, who mostly plays bass and guitar but also contributes cellos and, on the concluding track "Come to Me," high piano accordion opposite Bell's own. Recorded in Berlin with a predominantly German backing band and a series of guest musicians (the noted exception being fellow expat Bill Direen of the Bilders), City is a rewarding excursion into Bell's confident, striking world of music and lyrics. Her singing is still smokily passionate, and her work here is perhaps the most straightforwardly song-oriented yet. Her instrumental work is still more than fine, mostly concentrated on rhythm guitar. Everything is still generally low-key throughout, but instead of the hushed claustrophobia of her earliest work, it's more a deceptively gentle rock push with additional touches and instrumentation. Young's abilities on cello help him add an appropriate drama to the proceedings, as on "Mole," where his brisk arrangement is at once energetic and haunting. Of the various guest performers, Uli Glosauer does some notable turns on saxophone during "Eternal Fire" and clarinet on the lengthy, understated chime of "Holding." Direen's guitar and piano accordion on the longer instrumental "Below Normal Zero" adds a lovely, soft element of drone to the piece, further fleshed out by the "additional sounds" credited to one Harri Ansorge. Other tunes of note include the deceptively simple swing of the title track, one of the few on the album with drums; "Willow," based on a previous performance of Bell's with a cellist as part of a poetry/song cycle; and "Come to Me," where the blend of accordions and bass results in a strange, cabaret-like atmosphere shading Bell's lyric of burnt romance.

City of Sorrows, Sandra Bell
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