Various Artists


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There is no organizing principle sufficient for describing this Irregular Records project. Its contains music too varied, multifarious, and interesting to attempt boiling it down to a common denominator. Nine artists are given space for two songs apiece, and there is often such diversity even within selections from individual artists that it makes collective characterization difficult. Nevertheless, there are some shared sensibilities at work on the album. In the broadest sense, the label itself describes 9x2 as "always literate grown-up songs for grown-up people," which is a more than fair verdict. In addition, many of the contributors not only come out of but continue the music hall tradition. (Irregular, in fact, specializes in what might loosely be labeled cabaret.) In this mold there is Harvey Andrews, whose "Manet & Monet" is part rococo art song (with a synthesized backdrop out of Handel or Bach), part fireside oral tale, and part theatrical melodrama. Philip Jeays picks up the mantel left by Brecht and Brel, slipping between playful Dadaism ("The Laughing Song") and haunting, high-modern balladry ("Don't Wait for Me"). Des de Moor and Irregular honcho Robb Johnson, two more genuine Brel heirs, provide four exquisitely nuanced, vanguard chansons (the former's of a Gallic vintage; the latter's utterly, uniquely British). And the impeccable Barb Jungr adds torch in the unrequited "Song for Dan" ("Some loves are like acid/They mock you for life") and the sultry "Just for Today." Other contributors emerge more from the folk tradition. Pete Atkin does his work in lyrical singer/songwriter mode, though with a broader, more romantic sweep ("The Beautiful Changes") and more whimsy ("Star of Tomorrow") than the form generally manages. Cult rocker and pop historian Alan Clayson injects electricity into the proceedings, though his songs -- combining rock's thrust and elegiac Celtic and British folk touches -- are as theatrically wrought as they are feral, while Leon Rosselon's enchanting "Strange the Things We Don't Remember" recalls a more bucolic Ray Davies and, with its ethereal double bass, the acoustic psychedelia of the late '60s. That leaves New Zealand "professional liar" Kath Tait, who closes the album with satisfyingly poetic quirkiness. Even better news than the overall quality of 9x2 is that all its featured artists have extensive discographies just waiting to be mined.

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