Album Review: Look Around the Corner, Quantic and Alice Russell (with Combo Barbaro), April 2012

This pairing should excite those of us who know each of these artists for their work apart. Quantic, a.k.a. Will Holland, has a prolific and eclectic career so far. His delving into latin sounds has been done adeptly and avoided the pitfalls of others who try to ape the sound without understanding its roots. Before that, his release in the soul revival arena, I’m Thankful (Tru Thoughts, 2006), re-introduced us to the signature voice of Spanky Wilson and her take-no-prisoners version of “Don’t joke with a hungry man.”

Alice Russell’s Pot of Gold album (Six Degrees, 2008) proved she was a UK vocalist to be celebrated in the same light as Amy Winehouse and Adele. Alas, she is still largely unknown to North American audiences. Her solid tone and power remind me of Alison Moyet’s performance on Yazoo’s classic LP, Upstairs at Erics (Mute, 1982).

Look Around the Corner is not the first meeting of these two but it is the first featuring Holland’s band of Central American musicians, Combo Barbaro.

Where this album works best is where Russell and the Combo are allowed to do their thing in the most classic sense. That is, let Alice sing. Let the Combo play. And we have magic. Mess with that formula, and we have mush electronica.

“Magdalena” and “I’ll Keep My Light in My Window” are perfect for Russell. She wails on them in her inimitable way. Quantic’s production is reserved here and Russell soars above it.

“Una Tarde en Mariquita” is a nice latin tune with a straight-ahead performance by the band. Again, the production takes a back seat. The musicianship is sharp enough to carry the tune.

“I’d Cry” is a charming cha cha number with graceful violin accompaniment. It is a tad overproduced and leaves me wanting a more raw version. A short acoustic version is included toward the end of the album sans the violin.

There are ‘filler’ tracks here that we could all do without. But these are minor and seem to be de rigueur for Electronic releases these days. Still, for the more substantial tracks where Alice sings and the band plays, this is a fine collection and a welcome reunion. What’s more, unless there’s an Alice Russell LP in the near future, this will be our fill of her for the time being.