Dakota Suite & Quentin Sirjacq: There Is Calm To Be Done

As one might expect from a collaborative album pairing two markedly different artists, There Is Calm To Be Done presents a multi-faceted portrait, in this case one featuring vocal songs and instrumental pieces and with composing credits split almost equally between the artists. It's not the first time, however, that Liverpool-based Dakota Suite (led by Chris Hooson in collaboration with David Buxton) and pianist Quentin Sirjacq have worked together, as Sirjacq also contributed to the group's 2010 release Valissa as well as 2012's The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart. Sonically it's a rich outing, with Hooson's vocals and acoustic guitar, Buxton's guitars (acoustic and electric) and pedal steel, and Sirjacq's piano and synthesizers enhanced by other musicians' bass (electric and double), drums, woodwind, and horn contributions.

There are, however, highs and lows on the album, with the striking clarinets-and-saxophone arrangement of Sirjacq's sombre instrumental “Nu Dat Deze Dag Voorbij Is” a definite high and some of the songs tendency to lapse too a little excessively into singer-songwriter mode the low—even if it's hard not to be moved by “Be My Love,” a song Hooson wrote with his wife Johanna in mind and which is about as upfront as a song can be in declaring its author's feelings. Here and elsewhere, there's a plainspoken naturalness about Hooson's singing that enhances its appeal, though his delivery is hardly what one would call dynamic.

It's telling that many of the album's most satisfying songs are instrumentals, with Buxton's “Flat Seat,” for instance, an evocative, even cinematic setting heavy on piano and acoustic guitar and whose breezy lilt suggests a carefree road trip through the French countryside. Sirjacq's “Ask the Dusk” likewise impresses for the film soundtrack character conjured by its impressionistic piano playing and lyrical melodies, while his “The Tears That Bind Us to This Place” is memorable for its elaborate chamber-styled arrangement. The delicate closer “I Miss the Dust” shows how powerful an understated arrangement of piano and woodwinds can be when executed with sensitivity.

Certainly no one can accuse There Is Calm To Be Done of being limited in its stylistic reach. The addition of lap steel to “This is My Way of Saying That I Am Sorry,” a vocal ballad that plays like a collaboration between The Eagles and Glen Hansard, bolsters its country-rock aura, while the instrumental “Committing to Uncertainty” spotlights the project's more frenetic side in featuring aggressive saxophone playing by Yoann Durant. And were Hooson's vocals to be stripped away, “Dronning Maud Land” would become a small jazz group setting featuring double bass, piano, drum brushes, and woodwinds. If there's a downside to such diversity, it's that the album doesn't quite come together as a cohesive whole but comes across more as a presentation of many parts, some of them clearly related—those featuring Hooson's singing, for example—and others less so.

August-September 2014