What does it sound like?:
Roxanne de Bastion is another pretty face with a pretty voice who owns an acoustic guitar and has a piano in the front room. How is she going to stand out in the cut-throat music business and appeal to grizzled old Afterworders as well as youngsters her own age? She’s made a start by crowd funding Hearsay & Heirlooms and, next week, she is promoting it at small venues up and down the country at less than ten pounds a ticket.
I first noticed her on YouTube, all by herself, singing The Kinks Dead End Street. Her exquisite gossamer voice tackling a tale of austere existence is a fascinating listen. It’s a good choice for her to cover. Judging by Hearsay & Heirlooms, she aspires to emulate Ray Davies’s succinct storytelling. Dead End Street, in particular, also has a political edge Roxanne is clearly drawn to.
This album was inspired by her grandfather, a Hungarian composer, who endured the Nazis, then fled Stalin’s Russia and settled in Stratford upon Avon. She derives themes from his life and extrapolates them to the present day, mingling in her own experiences too: persecution, migration, exile, failing to learn the lessons of history, resilience in the face of adversity, finding oneself and, of course, the redemptive power of love. Some songs are political and some are personal but all have memorable refrains and non-generic lyrics. There is a real narrative arc across the ten songs in which Roxanne matures and grows.
The music is beautiful too, diligently constructed around her voice, careful not to intrude on its space. Her luxuriant multi-tracked backing vocals are extra soft creamy balm for the ears. There are strings, notably a sonorous cello, a full band or, yes, simple acoustic guitar or piano, with easily enough musical twists and surprises to keep the mind from wandering. In fact, there are an impressive number of hooks and melodies. There is plenty here to please the radiowaves and the youtube.
Grandad himself makes an appearance. Roxanne found a crackly old recording of him playing one his compositions on a piano, then wishing his son happy birthday in a stern manner. She couldn’t resist adding him on to the end as a hidden track.
Hearsay & Heirlooms is a confident, mature piece of work from an emerging talent. It is both intriguing and thought-provoking. She has that rare songwriting skill of being introspective and outward facing at the same time, transforming the personal to the universal. I suspect both Ray Davies and grandad would be proud.
What does it all *mean*?
Roxanne has a bright future. I hope she takes to heart her own sage advice from Train Tracks, “Do what you love/do what you can/don’t buy into their shit/do it with style/do it with grace/& never lose your temper/when you’re in the thick of it.”
Goes well with…
A family gathering of grizzled old Afterworders, their children and their grandchildren.
Might suit people who like…
Laura Marling is the current queen of singer-songwriting. Roxanne de Bastion is one slot on a Radio Two playlist, one patronising Holland arm round the shoulder or one scandalous sexual encounter away from being in the same league. She already has the songs.