Barnyard Drama

Memories and a List of Things to Do

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A classically trained singer with a five-octave range and a long track record in contemporary vocal music (including wicked extended techniques), despite her young age, is singing jazz standards accompanied by a free improv drummer who also spins records and digital loops. That's Barnyard Drama's debut album stripped to its bare essentials. Christine Duncan goes back and forth between the most seductive torch song singer ("A Cold Dawn," Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets") to abstract vocalizations and throat singing evoking the circus freak stylings of Phil Minton and Jaap Blonk. Jean Martin is solely responsible for dressing up the songs and making sure that Duncan's improvised flights are suitably framed. He spends little time sitting behind the drum kit, preferring instead to weave simple soundscapes put together from old vinyl, looped field recordings, and hand percussion. The result is impressive and daring in its alignment of chaotic, free-form passages ("Sister Mary" and the first half of "Invited Ghosts, Just in for the Evening," before it morphs into a troubled rendition of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue") and crowd-pleasing standards given a modern film noir reading. On first listen, the ear is drawn to Duncan's voice: seductive and pleasant with a touch of lightness that makes her sound debonair or charmingly childish. Further listens reveal the troubled backgrounds, the studio trickery (Duncan's voice answering itself in "Sister Mary," the mesmerizing vocal effects in "Matilda and Geraldine"), and the unusual -- and artistically sound -- crossover appeal of the music. Highly recommended.

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