Back in 2007, on the strength of just one single, the British music press was hailing Liz Green as a talent to watch. It was the kind of endorsement most artists would kill to have. But rather than embrace the hype, Green pressed the pause button, letting her music develop at its own pace, far from the public spotlight. As the mesmerising material on O, Devotion! shows, she made the right decision.
“Gallows” is as scary and bleak a piece as you’re ever likely to hear – just voice and guitar, building its quiet intensity until a surprising nursery rhyme quote shatters the tension like someone dropping a glass, and then the song returns to its original rhythm. It’s gorgeously, darkly creepy. It’s blues, but not in any conventional sense. Instead, there’s a shadowy, disturbing sense of sorrow that underpins everything, accented by the splinters of New Orleans horns that float like ghosts around the back of tracks like “Luis” and “Hey Joe” (not that one) and Green’s deliberately expressionless tone, a voice that seems to come from somewhere out of time and ups the fear factor of it all. Even her promise of “a whole lot of fun tonight” is tinged with menace.
She revisits “Bad Medicine” and “French Singer,” the single that so excited critics four years ago. The first track is an eerie, spooky meditation played out against the counterpoint of a Dixieland band, the latter a piece beamed in from some ghostly 4 a.m. cabaret on a voyage of the damned and curiously beautiful in its understatement. Like the rest of the disc, they’re songs that take you to another place, somewhere restive and often uncomfortable; but once caught there, it’s impossible to leave.