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EQUATION "Hazy Daze" Blanco y Negro CD3984208242

Equation were launched with a great fanfare in back in 1995, but have received more brickbats than bouquets since then. So the issue of their first album with publicity handouts claiming they have "created a new and sophisticated folk-pop" is probably producing hollow laughter amongst many on the folk scene. But for my money anything featuring Kathryn Roberts' voice deserves a listen.

Kathryn's vocals are definitely the highlight of Hazy Daze, but don't expect the same tone colours that featured in her earlier work. She has an amazing ability to adapt her voice to the material she is performing, using an earthier or breathier sound or breaking into falsetto as the song requires. A bit of a culture shock at first, but it all seems to come perfectly naturally to Kathryn and she certainly seems to be enjoying herself.

Fiddle and guitar providing the dominant instrumental textures, the fiddle lines particularly catching the ear. Mainstream music writers have found this album 'folky', but folk listeners may find it a bit 'poppy' with the inclusion of electric instruments, multi-tracking, and bass and drums. However, the Lakeman brothers have matured greatly as musicians. They don't seem out to prove their abilities (there are no long instrumental breaks), but play well within themselves using their instrumental skills to support the songs.

The songs themselves are all self-penned and largely have impressionistic lyrics hinting at situations and feelings rather than stating them. I have to admit that only two or three really grabbed me at first hearing. Why do pop oriented producers recess the voice in the mix and make you strain your ears to make out the words? But the whole album continues to grow on me with repeated listening. A couple of my favourite tracks bring Kathryn's voice further forward, and could have sat quite happily in her earlier albums. "Communion" with a nice touch of clarinet accompaniment half way through, and "Choose Your Moves" sung poignantly to solo guitar accompaniment and rounded off with a lovely violin/ flute duet. But equally I find it hard to resist both the driving country/rock fiddle and drum sound of "Kissing Crime" (which sounds like it has come straight from some Texas dance hall), and the pop flavoured "Sister", amongst others.

Not one for all Living Tradition readers then: but I guess many others have albums that inhabit this middle ground, and (whisper it) play them at least as much as their folkier ones. For them Hazy Daze is well worth a listen or three.

Richard Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 26 of The Living Tradition magazine.