Anna Calvi, One Breath

Brian Howe

By Brian Howe

on 10.08.13 in Reviews

An electric guitar virtuoso with a battering-ram voice, England’s Anna Calvi melds power and seduction into a towering presence. Dressed as a kohl-eyed male flamenco dancer, she gins up whirlpools of high-contrast sound from her Telecaster so deftly that it’s hard to tell where softness ends and harshness begins. Her Mercury Prize-shortlisted debut earned comparisons to P.J. Harvey (especially given its co-production by longtime Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis) and Patti Smith, a garland bestowed by avid early supporter Brian Eno.

Melding power and seduction into a towering presence

Now she returns with producer John Congleton for the more focused and direct One Breath. Calvi leads a quintet armed with harmonium, tuned percussion, keyboards, strings and drums through a cavernous space, generating a sound furious enough to fill it. Eerie, subtle atmospheres and explosive riffage hang together with dreamy grandeur; an orchestra repeatedly swoops in from nowhere. The title track’s gorgeous symphonic home stretch is followed by the raw sound of a guitar plugging into a live amp for the hurtling garage-fuzz of “Love of My Life.”

Between her steely murmur and a gale-force blare, Calvi brocades her vocal lines with gulps and pants and choked cries, as though the music were something she was running from — or, at her most ferocious, chasing. “Eliza” spotlights her thrilling rock guitar, which drifts into moodier territory on “Carry Me Over,” dripping with Eastern-sounding string bends. The record comes to an arresting close with “Bleed Into Me,” a faintly pitch-bent piano hymn, and “The Bridge,” where Calvi guns for Julianna Barwick’s airy crown. The fulsome vocal harmonies wrap nicely back into the first song’s, sending this wheel of fire hurtling around again.