For those who only know sister duo Alisha’s Attic for their late 1990s run of hit singles, this solo offering from the younger half Shelly may well pleasantly shock. Gone is much of the quirk so characteristic of their early singles that unequivocally polarised critical opinion, and what steps forward from the shadows is a much breezier, beautifully human record from a woman who appears to have progressed into the next phase of her career with unmistakeable grace. Those who followed the Attics to the conclusion of their shelf life with third album The House We Built — their most critically praised and, ironically, their commercial flop — will perhaps be less taken aback. Poole has carried across the strongest elements of that collection’s sophisticated songwriting into her solo work, crafting a peach of a record that’s dreamy without losing focus or being overly detached. Certainly there are echoes of Alisha’s Attic here, but this time she self-harmonises and keeps proceedings clean and uncluttered.
One of the secret pleasures of Alisha’s Attic was discovering their B-sides, which were frequently more spontaneous and exuberant than their album output, recorded as they were mostly outside of record company meddling. Such was the quality of many of these footnotes that one of them justly reappears here, albeit in a considerably tweaked, polished and remoulded form, on the downloadable single ‘Little Wonder’. Digging up a few key lines and melodies, the result is a sweeping and majestic track that showcases Poole’s more relaxed and natural vocals, fully at ease with her new style. Quitting the cigarettes may have helped smooth away the grit that suited the Alisha’s Attic mould, but she clearly revels in these more gentle surroundings.
Stylistically, the songs touch mainly on folk-pop with their shimmering and addictive melodies, but there are also shades of palatable jazz showing a fondness for the likes of Rickie Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell. The title track trades almost spoken word verses with a nagging chorus and woozy production, while the rolling ethnic percussion of ‘Totally Underwater’ is positively finger-clicking good. Other highlights include the yearning lamentations of ‘Don’t Look That Way’, the sumptuous love song ‘If You Will Be Pilot’ and the poptastic ‘Lose Yourself’.
Two duets with young New York Italian singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti bookend the second half of the record; the first, ‘Anyday Now’, is the finer of the two and takes its inspiration from the Meryl Streep/Robert Redford movie ‘Out Of Africa’, but that’s not to say that the closer, ‘Hope’, is no good. Each track has something to recommend it to a wider audience than will probably hear them, which is a real shame. Hard Time For The Dreamer is a real coming of age record and a blissful listen, and with such maturity and confidence contained in these ten songs, it’s hard to believe that Poole hasn’t always been a solo artist.
[Transistor Project; September 26, 2005]