Liane Carroll’s latest album, Ballads, proves the still frustratingly little-known 49-year-old is one of Britain’s most emotionally visceral and accomplished singers.
Live she’s a perfect post-Christmas mix of earned sentiment and bawdy entertainer, with a jazz repertoire she stretches from Nina Simone to Donald Fagen. The expert wisecracks she tosses from her seat at the piano help the songs’ sometimes broken words slip down.
Carroll’s a pure yet raw musician, her scat-singing harmonically entwining with the quartet she also leads as an eccentric, virtuoso pianist. A generally upbeat first half ends with her quieting the festive crowd with songs by an old Ronnie’s regular, Nina Simone.
She stretches “Wild is the Wind’s" words out softly and evenly in pockets of silence. Her voice is slightly rougher when she returns, a bit swamped on “A Fairytale of New York”’s raucous choruses. But she catches all its drunk-tank narrator’s barely expressible sadness.
And, solo at the piano on Tom Waits’s “Take It With Me” – key, yearning line: “I’m gonna take it with me when I go” – she mines the words’ deepest, fullest meaning. Amidst the festive tinsel, it’s a simply profound, tearful moment.