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Ballads

Ballads

Liane Carroll is a little like Diana Krall without the bitch, and it works for her. Ballads, released on 15th April, is practically malice free and consequently, extremely affecting.

From the off, Carroll's arresting vocal rises from the speaker in a soft smoke till it seems like you're breathing it in. This description can only give the slightest hint of the intimacy she invites over these 11 tracks. Even with a full orchestra behind her, masterfully arranged by Chris Walden, her voice peels up from the rest of the track, sticking only to the meaning of the lyric. 'You've Changed' holds the line "There's no need to tell me we're through". From someone else the delivery might have come sharpened with spite, but Carroll loosens the stiff upper lip, resigning herself to a letdown lover, and it's a stirring moment - one of many.

The other delight in these performances is how genuine they sound. True to form, Carroll mercifully sidesteps the all-too-common affliction which sees other modern jazz singers treat vowels as if they're a New Jersey cabbie. With a delightfully unmannered performance, most lyrics hit as sincere, believable episodes from her life. These could be her words, even if they do come from an offbeat selection of writers, including Buddy Holly and Carole King. Curiously despite their authorship, the songs are arranged and produced so well and her performances so nuanced and easy that pressing play feels like discovering a gem buried by time.

Ballads is aptly titled. The album is midnight blue, never lively but not lacking for this. It is a heartbreak record too, for the most part. Largely, it is a triumph in this. Perhaps the only fault is too much guitar, which makes much less of an impact than the delicate piano. The exception is 'Two Lovely People', which works into a gorgeous, fluttering guitar solo. Some songs do miss the mark though. The album starts on the wrong foot, and 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' has been more flatteringly interpreted.

So often it's said that a singer's voice is wonderful when it cracks and thins with emotion, but how much better when a vocal swells and grows rich when it chokes up. The most poignant moments on this record are also its finest and the arrangements build magnificently. These are endings to stop conversation and put pauses between breaths.

This is an album to listen to time over, to soundtrack your memories to. Forget your water, leave the rocks in the bucket - Ballads is a record to cut whiskey with.