Ane Brun, Union Chapel, London
Thursday 05 March 2009
Given the packaging that surrounds many a budding pop career, it comes as a pleasant surprise to encounter a performer whose style is as pared down as that of the Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun. For her, it's clear, all that matters is the music.
Of course, "budding" is hardly a word to describe someone who has just released her sixth album and turns 33 next week. But while Brun is acclaimed in her native country, she is only now attempting to break through in Britain, and with the vogue for female artists of the rather younger and brasher variety, it will be interesting to see what the response is to her heightened sensibilities. This audience was in no doubt – they gave her a standing ovation.
Stately in a plain black dress, Brun was more cabaret than folk club – both a serious artist and a free spirit who seems to exist in her own time and space. Those who find the long wait between Kate Bush albums intolerable could do a lot worse than look to Brun to tide them over. And Joni Mitchell fans should also be aware of how her legacy lives on.
A voice that combines purity with warmth, and applies stresses in an appealingly Bjork-like way, was enhanced by simple guitar and piano arrangements, and between Brun and her three backing singers – "my diamonds", as she effusively if somewhat embarrassingly referred to them – we were treated to some gorgeous harmonies. But it was Brun's emotional literacy that lifted her into a whole other realm. It will be a while before Lily Allen describes a lover, as Brun does, as having "hazy, anticipating eyes".
That came from "Changing of the Seasons", a song dealing in the kind of intimacy that should work well in a setting such as the Union Chapel. But there were times when things got a little too self-conscious as we watched Brun and she watched us and then appeared to falter in the rather buttoned-up atmosphere. "You're very polite," she told us, "and then I become polite too." Conscious of their surrounds, there was a four-letter word that the women couldn't bring themselves to sing.
The mood eased for the outwardly jaunty but inwardly mordant "Armour" before Brun took us on the magic-carpet ride that is her new single, out this week, "The Treehouse Song". It's a song about lost dreams, so perhaps Brun is in touch with the here and now after all.
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