Like armchair travel through a newly-carved glacial valley, Rose Polenzani’s fourth solo album, August, has a hushed itinerant quality that throws wide open the world, yet mostly remains cosily in an intimate comfort zone. With the wow and flutter of her earlier work all but assuaged —there’s nothing here as tummy-tighteningly gripping as, say, ‘Shake Through To Ugly’ from 1999′s Anybody — August is Polenzani’s melodic nucleus come to fruition.
Recorded entirely in her bedroom on 4- and 8-track recorders, these twelve persuasive songs are both as spare and yet far more pithy than that might suggest. Polenzani has always been an acute and lively lyricist, and the sentient imagery she brings to songs like ‘The First Time’ and ‘And These Hands’ infuse and lift them above their delicate beginnings. Elsewhere, on the decidedly unsettling diptych of ‘How Shall I Love Thee?’ and ‘Girl’, she quietly rages, audibly struggling with her own mixed emotions. Best of all is the charming ‘Rolling Suitcase’. Sure, it may in fact be about locking a boyfriend in the wardrobe, but it’s so sweetly offset by toy percussion and romantic French accordion that you almost don’t notice.
The one cover here is of US singer-songwriter Josh Cole, who also adds his warped harmonica to the atmospherics of ‘How Shall I Love Thee?’. From the title in, his ‘Easter Hymn’ is something of a religious experience in itself as he softly trades harmonies with Rose over gently plucked acoustics. Like Tori Amos, Polenzani has never shied away from mingling the sacred with the profane, but August seems to revel in a more humbled stance. Where many of her earlier songs have been heavy with passion originating from “a guilt-regret-religious-fervour-type feeling”, tracks like ‘Easter Hymn’ and ‘Sometimes’ appear more mature and accepting of her beliefs. That said, ‘Explain It To Me’ bears a hint of her former unease, complemented by keyboard sounds like a church organ possessed. It’s a definite progression.
It’s somewhat redundant to say that this is Rose Polenzani’s most consistent album to date — all of them impress — but it is, and there’s a seemingly simple explanation. Having held her own whilst touring as a member of Voices On The Verge (alongside Erin McKeown, Jess Klein and Beth Amsel), in addition to her spiritual growth, the Rose Polenzani of August seems more confident. In her own quiet way, she sounds larger than ever before, cleverly trading off the value of understatement. It’s a neat and beautiful trick and one that demands recognition.
[Parhelion; March 29, 2005]