Cate Le Bon is the latest musical export from deepest, darkest Wales. Well, Cardiff anyway. Despite some attention gained from last year’s Welsh-language EP, Edrych Yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg, and a self-released single, she remains relatively unknown across the border. Now, with a little help from her friends, that looks set to change very quickly. Super Furry Animals chief Gruff Rhys, whose Mercury Music Prize-nominated Neon Neon side project featured Le Bon on vocals, is repaying the favour by releasing the artist’s debut album, Me Oh My, on his brand new imprint, Irony Bored. Despite the cover depicting Le Bon holding a golden egg, there’s nothing embryonic about this accomplished collection of songs; Me Oh My is fully formed and well matured, showing just how far Le Bon has come since her early performances.
From the opening title track in, it’s the voice that really stops you in your tracks. Measured and restrained but bursting with character, it’s noticeably Welsh but without the trademark gusto of some of the land of song’s more famous musical exports. Gruff Rhys has made reference to Nico when talking about Le Bon and the megalithic German is a much closer comparison than Shirley Bassey or Cerys Matthews. Le Bon is a capable guitarist too, shifting from the delicate melodic folk of ‘Sad Sad Feet’ to the White Stripes-esque rock of ‘Terror Of The Man’, taking care to visit every step in between. Like her singing, her playing is never self indulgent and sounds just as assured as her voice, allowing the songs enough room to shine and reveal themselves more with each listen.
The quality of the songwriting is consistently high across the ten tracks. ‘Sad Sad Feet’ and ‘Digging Song’ prove she has a way with a tune, while ‘Hollow Trees House Hounds’ and ‘Burn Until The End’ could give a few classic rock egos a run for their money. With its unrelenting organ part, there’s a touch of The Doors about ‘Eyes So Bright’, but mercifully without the sixth form poetry or a ten minute instrumental. Ultimately, though, Me Oh My is perfectly capable of standing on its own two feet without having to rely on comparisons. Despite Le Bon’s lyrical preoccupations with mortality (the album’s working title was ‘Pet Deaths’), it’s a big warm cwtch of a record, perfectly timed to help us cope with the dark autumn evenings.
[V2; October 12, 2009]