Frankie Armstrong

I Heard a Woman Singing

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Problem number one is musical: Frankie Armstrong is a British folk singer blessed with a strong, clear, supple voice, and she's well aware of the quality of her instrument. Unfortunately, she seems to have but one trick in her interpretive bag, and that trick is overkill. Every song is delivered at a volume somewhere between mezzoforte and fortissimo, and at an emotional pitch somewhere between seething frustration and barely contained rage. "Nothing Between Us Now" is a harangue aimed petulantly at a faithless lover; James Taylor's "Millworker" is a protest song hammered out with all the subtlety of a picket chant; even the potentially gorgeous "Tam Lin" is beaten soundly about the head and shoulders by that strong, clear, supple voice. You find yourself straining to hear the songs through the singer. Problem number two is gender-political: though this is supposed to be an album dealing with women's issues, that expectation is only borne out if you believe that women's issues begin and end with the shallowness, inconstancy and treachery of men. This record doesn't really seem to be about women at all -- it's about the men who leave them, the men who exploit and abuse them, the men who make them have babies, and the men who are so inconsiderate as to drink themselves to death and leave their wives with the babies they made them have. Men do all of those things, of course, and there's nothing the matter with saying so. But one might be forgiven for wondering if there isn't more than one side to the stories told in these songs, or whether all of the shallowness, inconstancy and treachery is really so uniformly distributed to one side of the sexual faultline. Ultimately, that nagging question ends up distracting as much from the music on this album as Frankie Armstrong's bludgeoning delivery does.

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