From 2013. The Liane Carroll album we’ve all been waiting for in more ways than one, an album that surpasses her greatest and considerable achievements to date such as her quietly moving 2003 album, Billy No Mates, or the way, live, she sings ‘You Don’t Know Me’ with that despairing rebuke in her voice. Forget all the awards that she’s won this is where the music does the talking.
The 11 songs of Ballads, such sad lingering ones, with their demon eyes blazing furiously, or simply gazing slackly as the song demands, the mood set in terms of interpretation by the resigned quietly dark despair in the ambivalent ‘Here’s to Life’, as good in its different way as the superlative version of the song on Barbra Streisand’s Love is the Answer.
Another early album peak of Ballads is the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen song Sinatra made his own, ‘Only the Lonely’, set for big band by a 21st century Nelson Riddle, Chris Walden, its opening lyric: ‘Each place I go/only the lonely go’, could even be the maxim for an album that as a journey to intimacy thrives on isolation as in the stark Gwilym Simcock piano accompaniment to ‘Mad About the Boy’, or returning to the theme explicitly on ‘The Two Lonely People’, Carroll’s expression by times hotly emotional or icily cold depending on the mood she’s conveying.
Be warned though, it’s not a depressing album in any way, as her version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ more than affirms. In a sense Ballads is a confessional album gathering together many classic complementary songs cleverly collected and interpreted that espouse loneliness, loss, but above all a longing for love.
Carroll is at her most heartfelt and life-affirming on Todd Rundgren’s ‘Pretending to Care’ from 1985’s A Cappella with a remarkable, pingingly-pure, top note at a crucial arc of the song. No one’s come close to releasing a jazz vocals album of this quality so far this year and my guess is it will be a long wait until someones does. SG