Barnyard Drama

I'm a Navvy

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For their second album as Barnyard Drama, husband-and-wife team Jean Martin (drums) and Christine Duncan (vocals) recruited two bold, creative, and highly compatible electric guitarists: Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise. Fans of the latter's work in avant-prog groups like Miriodor and Les Projectionnistes may feel a bit at a loss when approaching this album, but those who know him for his involvement in various Ambiances Magnétiques-related improvisation projects will recognize here some of his best work of late in that vein. Barnyard Drama's debut album (Memories and a List of Things to Do) was a fascinating variation on avant-jazz, focusing on Duncan's stunning range (from a seductive torch singer to a hysterical child) and Martin's light drumming and turntables. I'm a Navvy has a lot more bite, and not only thanks to the guitarists: Duncan is more exuberant, Martin occasionally pounds harder, and the group's sound as a whole is grittier and more urgent. The album contains nine songs -- yes, songs, with lyrics, melodies and developments -- even though improvisation also plays a key part in each one of them. Highlights include the scary title opener, the beat-driven "The Blues," and the near-epic "Invisible." Duncan's shapeshifting voice (extremely girlish in "Butt'ry Burning," animal in "I'm a Navvy," velvety in the Rodgers & Hart standard "Little Girl Blue") is always at the center of the music, revealing a unique singer and powerful performer. This album is bursting with creativity and talent, while striking a good balance between odd songwriting and free playing. Simply put, I'm a Navvy is a must, and a very serious year-end list contender.

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