REVIEW: Bedouine – Bird Songs of a Killjoy

With a name like Bedouine you might be expecting a Middle Eastern influence on the music. If like me you were, be prepared to be wrong. There isn’t a trace of it on this album, Bedouine’s second.

Instead it’s firmly rooted in a north American country-folksy-acousticy-singer songwritery sound; a less kooky Joni Mitchell. As if ready to confront such misplaced ideas, the album opens with the lyric “oh Kentucky, I miss you”. So with your outlook correctly realigned, be prepared to get exactly what you expect…for the opening third of the album at least.

‘Sunshine Sometimes’ and ‘When You’re Gone’ are two sweetly jolly melodies with some interesting instrumentation. After listening to ‘One More Time’, just two times it seems so familiar and comfortable. Like when you first put on an old jumper in autumn. It’s a beaut of a song and you’ll be singing along before you know it.

Then just as you think you can settle down with a nice cup of tea to tap your foot along gently along comes the middle of the album with a totally different cinematic sound.

If you Google Bedouine she is listed as a “film score composer”. If true, this explains a major aspect of her sound. You can begin to understand how the songs would work in different contexts or TV and film scenes, real or imaginary.

‘Dizzy’ marks the beginning of this quite different journey which, for me, brings to mind something starring John Hamm, possibly a Mad Men scene. One that is much more enjoyable than the orchestral ridiculousness of ‘Bird’ and all the songs with titles containing the word ‘bird’. Indeed the appearance of various orchestral instruments throughout is sadly rather irritating. They just sound really cheesy and unnecessary and make an unwelcome return again later in instrumental track, ‘Reprise’. The problem is this isn’t a film score, it’s an album. Bedouine is at her best on this album when she keeps it simple.

Luckily, in the final third, she does get back to what she does best. ‘Echo Park’ sees the influence of Joni Mitchell on Bedouine at its most, well, influential.

There is a naivety in the sound that reminds me of Joao Gilberto, an almost childlike simplicity, but an older, perhaps pre-pubescent child, who is becoming self-aware, is leaving some innocence behind and is not quite as confident as their talent tells everyone listening that they should be. And therefore sings kind of quietly and holds back a bit on the strumming. Tracks ‘Matters of the Heart’ and ‘Tall Man’ with a jazzy lounge influence illustrate exactly what I’m talking about. This is cool if you’re Senhor Gilberto and you’re inventing Bossa Nova, but with Bedouine I want to give her a bit of a kick up the bum.

It’s subtle, it’s gentle and comforting, much of it sounds like it could have been released at any time in the last 50 years, and it improves the more you listen. It’s even surprising. Even so I do get the sense that it’s all a little bit too nice.

Words by James Spearing.

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