When you’ve got a singer with a name like Alison Wedding, it’s tough to avoid the inevitable cheap pun. When you’ve got a singer with the voice of Alison Wedding, nothing could be more shameful than to dismiss her talent with that kind of cheap shot. This is a singer-songwriter, an artist, and her album This Dance demands serious consideration.
First of all there is the question of exactly what cubby hole to squeeze her into. Critics need labels, but Wedding is the kind of talent that defies easy labeling. She is an accomplished jazz vocalist with an emotional authenticity and purity of tone that defines her performance. The elegance of her songwriting would be the envy of any of the bevy of aspiring singer-songwriters. Her lyrics are literate, her melodies sweet and tuneful. You listen to some of her songs and you think pop, you listen to others and you think world music. The one thing you ought to think is category be damned, no matter what you call it, this is great music.
“For Will,” the album’s haunting opener is a short elegy to the memory of her friend Will Poskitt. Its heartfelt intensity, reinforced by the moaning string arrangement, is an apt introduction to what is coming. “Carry On,” where Wedding is joined by Lionel Loueke’s guitar, changes the mood with an infectious melody that will embed itself in your ear. It introduces a Latin vibe that is picked up again in “Remain,” which also features some fine solo work on tenor sax from Chris Potter. It is one hot piece of work. “My Friend Regret” takes her in another direction. Built on the personification of regret, it not only illustrates the singer’s literary prowess, it (along with “Hey, Stranger,” which follows) shows off her traditional jazz affinities.
“Anyone But You,” a duet with Theo Bleckmann, is a sweet traditional love ballad. “Let Me Pretend” is a nicely literate breakup song that looks askance at the clichés of love songs as attempts to avoid real emotion. “We’ll Know” and “Up in Smoke” are almost art songs in their conception, their classical feel no doubt emphasized by their use of strings. Henry Hey’s piano introduction on the latter is memorable for its simple elegance, although its ending seems to go off on another tack. Wedding’s own piano work at the beginning of “Your Decision” takes a more dramatic approach. The album closes with the singer harmonizing with herself on a solo version of the title song.
Included in the large array of musicians participating on the various tracks are Michael League on electric bass and a variety of other instruments, Zach Brock and Maria Im on violin, Josh Henderson on viola, and J.Y. Lee on cello. Bill Laurance is on the Fender Rhodes on a couple of tracks and Cory Henry plays organ on “Let Me Pretend.” Others credited on the album are Magda Gainnikou, Ross Pederson, Pete McCann, Keita Ogawa, and Ignacio Henandez.
All in all, This Dance is an album that needs to be heard, and Alison Wedding is one “wedding singer” (when push comes to shove, who can resist the cheap pun) worth your attention.