Christine Tobin: A Thousand Kisses Deep

Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 00:00


A Thousand Kisses Deep

Christine Tobin

Trail Belle


Christine Tobin believes in lyrics. For some singers, any old words will do as long as the music is right, but the Dublin-born vocalist has repeatedly shown an attention to the meaning of her words that reaches beyond the regular I-love-you-please-don’t-leave-me-fly-me-to-the-moon froth of the standard repertoire.

In her own songs, Tobin draws together the earthiness of folk with a sophisticated, romantic sensibility and a jazz singer’s precision. The combination has made her one of the most highly regarded vocalists on the London scene.

In her search for the right words, Tobin has gone looking to others for inspiration. 2010’s Tapestry Unravelled was a deeply felt collection of Carole King covers, and she followed it with last year’s Sailing to Byzantium, a daring musical setting for WB Yeats’s poetry.

In the liner notes to A Thousand Kisses Deep, Tobin says Leonard Cohen has been a voice in her ear since the age of 10, and she has included one or two of his tunes in her live set for 20 years. At the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she presented a complete show of the Canadian miserabilist’s music, which duly won a Herald Angel award.

Joining Tobin in the recording studio for this Cohen fest is her longtime musical collaborator, guitarist Phil Robson, whose subtle and always supportive playing runs the gamut from classic be-bop to acoustic folk to overdriven rock. Robson also shares credit with Tobin for most of the arrangements, some of them subtle reworkings, others radical reconfigurations of Cohen’s originals.

Suzanne is transformed into a cheery township jive, with jaunty accompaniment from accordionist Huw Warren. Tower of Song is a lazy, Cassandra Wilson-esque groover that ends with a spine-tingling quote from Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way. The Story of Isaac is driven along by Dave Whitford’s funky bassline and Robson’s distorted guitar. Pianist Gwilym Simcock guests on Anthem, a hauntingly beautiful duet full of gospel warmth and optimism.

A lesser singer might be over-shadowed by the darkness of Cohen’s words. But Tobin invests these songs with their full meaning, and even finds the odd glimmer of hope where none was formerly apparent.