Barbara Morgenstern

Fan No. 2

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Somewhere between a career overview and a collection of oddities, Fan No. 2 is a slightly cryptically titled compilation showcasing the equally hard-to-pigeonhole Barbara Morgenstern in engaging fashion. Organized chronologically but not always hitting the expected points -- her arguable master work at the time of its original release, "The Operator," appears in the alternate but no less involving piano version -- Fan No. 2 provides the joy of hearing an artist audibly explore options as she goes, from the rough home-electronics feel of songs like "Ein Versuch" through to a concluding cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird," transforming the gentle folk of the original into an electro-house stomp. Given how sharply observed her English-language lyrics can be, it's a treat to hear her in her native German for much of the album; if the meaning is lost to those not speaking the language, touches like the overdubbed vocals and tense then shuffling beats on "Das Wort" and the Thomas Fehlmann "mix expansion" of "Der Augenblick," with an amazing bassline snaking below the swooning swing of the main melody, help lay out the exploratory side of Morgenstern's direction. And it's not just the vocal numbers; the all-instrumental "Eine Verabredung" is as sweetly majestic a composition as one could want, at once as stately as a procession, and as darkly romantic as anything from Portishead's first album, thanks to the beats and guitars. The slight shift to a kind of polished, avant-garde AOR heralded by "Nichts Muss" helps frame the rest of the collection, becoming ever more of a blend of approaches she synthesizes with an easy grace, all while keeping a sharp, elegant bite to songs like her piano-led collaboration with Robert Wyatt, "Camouflage," and the new version of "Mountainplace," which helps wrap up the disc.

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