2010′s Heart of My Own saw Basia Bulat expand her sound world from the confines of folk and folk instruments to choirs and strings while maintaining a folk sensibility in the album as a whole. According to Bulat herself, Tall Tall Shadow finds her further “exploring the boundaries of folk music some people know me for”.
Produced by Bulat together with Mark Lawson (responsible for Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs) and Tim Kingsbury (of the ‘Fire themselves) what emerges here is a brilliant and engaging pop record, songs of loss and optimism, the whole thing infused with Bulat’s strong and mesmerising voice, and arrangements – typically built around piano, guitar, electric autoharp and Andean charango that grab you instantly but reveal a lyrical and sonic depth behind them to maintain your interest.
The title track ‘Tall Tall Shadow’ begins with Bulat on electric piano, and the shadow of a folk tune in the song. As the chorus builds you realise you’re hearing something like the quiet epic nature of Carole King in the Tapestry era, minted new, fresh and from a different perspective. ‘Five Four’ begins with Bulat’s voice singing a folksy strummed song, then quietly something happens, the guitar joins in and, yes, a 5/4 rhythm takes over and brings us straight into the territory of Dave Brubeck. It’s an attractive mix.
‘Promise Not to Think About Love’ follows on with a poppy finger clicking groove and chorus. ‘It Can’t Be You’ mixes the charango with Bulat’s voice with a chorus and tune that is perfect power-pop while ‘Wires’ sees her voice closely tracked by harmonium before being taken over by an arrangement that sounds like it’s going to be an overwhelming, air-sucking pure pop thing, but remains restrained allowing the song some space to breathe. ‘The City with No Rivers’ combines plucked strings and electronic sounds with a military beat and a suggested epic story.
‘Paris or Amsterdam’ is a delicately poised triumph for her voice and the mix of pop and folk sensibility it demonstrates with its sparse arrangement and engagingly meandering melody. ‘Never Let Me Go’ starts promisingly with a gospel feel, but due to a soaring vocal treatment and overly celestial choirs ends up sounding more portentious than the essential simplicity the song demands. ‘From Now On’ is more like it, the gospel feel maintained with a spare piano arrangement that allows her voice to soar and takes us back to the real power of the title track.
It’s a great ending to a great record, one that musically takes Bulat a bit further from the folk comfort zone, but not so far as to lose the essential character of what she is about.