Caroline Lavelle certainly couldn’t be classed as an overnight sensation. After working with a veritable who’s who of the British music industry (including Radiohead, The Bluetones and Massive Attack), she caught the finely attuned ear of ambient maestro William Orbit. He produced her debut album, Spirit, in 1995. The album was well received but it’s taken seven years for her to produce the follow up, Brilliant Midnight.
Don’t let the Orbit connection fool you. Lavelle is no Beth Orton wannabe, or even a frustrated disco diva. This is more traditional Celtic music, with Lavelle’s cello to the fore as perfectly demonstrated by the opening instrumental track, Lost Voices. The cello mixes perfectly with some beautiful piano, with a darker edge provided by some strange, other-worldly sheep-like noises that hang incongruously on the track. It’s a perfect beginning to the album and would make a fine soundtrack to a rather sinister film.
The quality continues with Karma, the opening keyboard chords of which are like melting into a warm bath. It’s also our first opportunity to hear Lavelle’s intriguing voice. It’s not a classically beautiful voice, but it’s deep and rich and suits the material just fine here.
The best adjective to describe Brilliant Midnight is ‘classy’. Unfortunately, ‘classy’ can often be interchanged with ‘bland’, and several tracks here do slip into Enya territory. Anima Rising, in particular, could be an out-take from The Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, while Siamant’o quickly overstays it’s welcome, lasting as it does for over six minutes. Lavelle also has a tendency to lapse into the pretentious at times, as the title of Home Of The Whale may suggest.
It’s also true that the album would benefit from some judicious editing, as seventy minutes becomes slightly wearing. However, there are some gems hidden here. Firefly Night has an instrumental backing that brings to mind Lavelle’s old cohorts Massive Attack, and has a real energy about it. All I Have could be a breakthrough hit, especially with the news that it is to feature in an upcoming episode of one of the best television series around, Six Feet Under. Indeed, so commercial is All I Have, you could easily imagine it turning up on the next Dido record.
The highlight of Brilliant Midnight is, surprisingly enough, the cover of Ewan MacColl’s classic The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. This song has been covered so many times, it’s understandable to think that nobody could bring anything fresh to it, but Lavelle manages it here.
Despite its flaws, this is an excellent follow up to Spirit and won’t disappoint anybody who appreciates laid back, relaxed Gaelic-type music. A bit more passion may pay even greater dividends next time around however.