When we left the Norwegian nü-jazz group Beady Belle, after their 2005 record Closer, they appeared to be inching away from their Beyonce-goes-electronica style, heading in a more abstract direction, closer to the free-form attitude of their live performances. In the intervening three years since Closer, the band seems to have made a left turn toward a rootsier pop sound--not Norwegian roots, but American ones. Belvedere's opener, "Apron Strings," begins with, of all things, a Dobro lick. Elsewhere pedal steel, lap steel, and acoustic guitar peek out of songs that are more neo-soul, or R&B inflected jazz, than new country.
All this is in keeping with a country that encourages its musicians to take their music wherever it leads, regardless of genre restrictions or commercial considerations. In this case it leads to Beady Belle's most laid-back record yet. The charms of Belvedere are subtle: the perfect, minimalist grooves; the flawless mixture of acoustic and electric; the intelligent lyrics melded to memorable melodies. Singer/songwriter Beate S. Lech's slight accent hasn't disappeared, but if there is occasional difficulty understanding her lyrics, it is more due to their unexpected nature than any mispronunciation.
I'm tied to your apron strings
Whether a native English speaker would have written those words is moot--in either case they are pretty great. Lech has nailed not just the meaning of English but its rhythms as well.
Belvedere builds slowly through the quiet but booty-shaking funk of "Self-Fulfilling" to the Afro-beat inflected "Tranquil Flight." The aptly named "Intermission Music"--a duet with English jazz-pop wunderkind Jamie Cullum--slows the proceedings (tempo-wise not quality-wise), while serving up a metaphor for taking a break in a relationship. "Viscous Dream" introduces bluesy guitar to the mix, followed by the funky banjo of "Boiling Milk." "Two Faced" closes the record with a song that conjoins a folk-waltz with a jazz one. Belvedere rarely rises above a conversational tone but retains a gentle power that is the product of stellar musicianship, creative writing and arranging, and a recorded sound as gorgeous as their singer's voice (and--it must be said--her looks).
It will be interesting to see where Beady Belle goes from here, as all the rootsy stringed instruments come from outside the band (producer Anders Engen supplies Dobro and acoustic guitar, while session-man Geir Sundstøl supplies the rest). Wherever they go, they are worth following. • Michael Ross