Sarah Cracknell

Red Kite

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Since Sarah Cracknell was busy being the voice of Saint Etienne, it's hard to blame her too much for taking almost two decades to deliver her second solo album. After giving Red Kite a spin though, it's good enough that it's easy to wish that she had done it sooner. Unlike her 1997 album Lipslide, this time out Cracknell takes a giant step away from the patented Saint Etienne sound, surrounding her whisper-soft vocals with chamber pop, country-rock, and folk trappings (i.e., lots of guitars) while capturing the same sepia-toned nostalgic melancholy so much of their work has. Producing the album and playing many of the instruments is Edwyn Collins collaborator and Colorama leader Carwyn Ellis, and he helps give Cracknell's songs rich and warm backing. There is a fair amount of variety within the framework the two built. Sad, quiet, and blanketed with strings and vintage keys, songs like "On the Swings" and the shimmering "It's Never Too Late" feel like Left Banke album tracks with Fran├žoise Hardy on vocals; the country-rock-peaceful "Nothing Left to Talk About" meanders along happily and sports a vocal cameo from Nicky Wire; and a few tracks have some of her main group's light and fun feel, especially the very France-in-the-'60s-sounding "Hearts Are for Breaking." A couple tracks take unexpected turns: the folky "Take the Silver," which features the Rails on vocals, and the swaggering mod rocker "I Am Not Your Enemy." While the former is just a little too on-the-nose, the latter track works like a charm and shows that Cracknell can rock out a bit when the occasion calls for it. Choosing Ellis as a collaborator was a brilliant move on Cracknell's part; he's the perfect foil for her and he does everything possible to make the album sound great. She keeps up her end of the bargain, writing a batch of heartfelt songs and delivering them with her always lovely style. It's a perfect match and the result is an album well worth the wait. Hopefully the next one won't take as long to materialize.

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