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Helle Hansen (Denmark) – The Undertow (sample track from album Watershed)

We’re a bit late with this one, it was released over a fortnight ago, but it is one well worth waiting for.

The award-winning Danish singer and songwriter Helle Hansen released her twelfth album, ‘Watershed’ on October 13th, proving unquestionably that it is lucky for some.

And before you ask, she has no connection to the outdoor clothing company. That’s Helly, anyway.

She does have a connection to the great outdoors though and ‘Watershed’ comprises 12 new original songs, with multiple themes across the album including the overarching one – water.

The album title is a play on words in that watershed has several meanings of course, including a watershed moment, a defining event or turning point, as well as a geographical place that acts as a separation between rivers and where the water currents meet.

Those currents create eddies, flows and undertows of course and that pretty much sums up her music, which is a mélange of ingredients thrown into that boiling cauldron, including jazz, soul, blues, Latin, pop, and world music and delivered by way of a multitude of paths including vocal solos and duets, string quartets, quintets, octets, big bands and chamber orchestras.

There’s no singularity called Helle Hansen. She’s a universe.

What there most certainly is on ‘Watershed’ is a great variety of stylisation. On the second track, ‘Watershed Moment’ for example, I thought I was listening to the ‘Cheers’ TV comedy theme for a moment, while the sultry ‘Over my dead body’ could be a Bond movie theme, ‘Imminent Goodbye’ a Steady Holiday song performed by Elkie Brooks and ‘Body of Water’ a Shirley Bassey number recorded with Hendrix in attendance.

You think I’m kidding? Go check ‘em out.

I selected the opening track, ‘Undertow’ as the sample one. It starts off like a muezzin’s call to prayer at dawn as Helle redefines melisma, then develops into a peculiarly relaxed yet dangerous piece full of vocal references to the sort of bad outcomes you’d expect in Twin Peaks. That got me thinking of David Lynch and how this song would attract his dark, out of the box, thinking.

Helle is a storyteller as well as a musician. Few artists can combine those functions very well and I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in style she has to Anna Calvi, another one who can and whose music has a greater rock influence but who uses some of the same tricks as does Helle, such as the repetition of key words (“We fall, fall, fall to the ground”).

If intelligent, challenging cross-genre musicianship and lyricism is what floats your boat, then you’ve come home.

That’s the end of the idioms for today!

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