SOMEWHERE TO LAND - Rebecca Hancock and The Prison Wives (Hot Records)

I got this at the gig at the Rose of Australia, reviewed elsewhere. Apparently it started out as a self-financed an EP (on a four-track in her room). However when she started shopping the demos around, someone at Hot Records told her that there isn't much of a market for EPs, but suggested that if she had enough songs to expand it out to a full album, they might be able to come up with the cash to help finance it.

Given that Hot declined to finance either of the Celibate Rifles recent or forthcoming albums, it's nice to see some of that Eva Cassidy windfall being put to good use somewhere. Perhaps they've decided to concentrate on female singers in the hope that lightning will strike again. Either way, their help meant that this album could be recorded under the auspices of the ubiquitous Michael Carpenter at his Stagefright studio.

The resulting CD is good (as you'd expect from anything that Mr Carpenter touches), though on first listening (the morning, well afternoon, after the gig) it suffered a little in comparison with what I'd heard at that gig. Compared to the more expansive and fully realised performances that they got at the Rose, particularly from the dual keyboards, on the first listening to this CD some of the songs seemed a bit restrained and sketchy, you could almost say embryonic. In fact I did say exactly that to John Sandow and he hasn't contacted me since, such is the burden every critic bears (though I shouldn't make too much out of it, since often I can find myself just as out of favor even when I keep my mouth shut).

However that's the inherent hazard of going into the studio with songs that haven't been given much of a live work out beforehand, namely that there are possibilities that haven't been uncovered yet. Of course Charlie Owen, who works in the same way with Tex Perkins, would argue that for what you might miss you stand to gain a freshness that more than compensates. Actually, come to think of it, Rebecca Hancock ought to go really well on the same bill with Tex Perkins, since in their own separate ways they're both exploring a kind of country influenced/21st century progressive white soul cabaret that seems well on its way to becoming a separate category of its own (although so far Ms Hancock leans more toward the orthodox than does Mr Perkins).

This album was recorded with the backing of a core trio of John Sandow on keyboards and Mark Bradridge on bass, guitar and mellotron (both ex-Watusi Now as well apparently), plus drummer Nick Fisher, who would need no introduction to the patrons of this bar. The country influence, even extending to the use of pedal steel guitar on a couple of tracks, is more noticeable here than in live performance. On stage, there's an extra guitarist and a second keyboard player (who also dabbles on piano accordion, which really works... no, honest it does really work, adding a tangible Jacques Brel/languid European cabaret overtone) who really flesh out the sound. They also indulge in a bit of instrument swapping as well (another Tex Perkins correlation!).

These songs are pretty much what's being played live at the moment, consisting of mainly originals and two covers, David Crosby's "Everybody's Been Burned" and that striking, ear-catching version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Standout tracks amongst the originals are the title track, the opening "Moon Wants A Lover" and "Prison Ground", an ambivalent tale of escape from a failed marriage where the righteousness of being the aggrieved party ("for once I'm not guilty/for once I played it straight") doesn't come close to assuaging the injury ("I've never been so let down"). A case of a velvet fist inside an iron glove perhaps.

Rebecca Hancock has a strong, clear voice that can also be quite delicate, in the same way that a scalpel is delicate compared to a carving knife, but still cuts as deep with ease. Add to that the fact that she's writing most of her own material and maybe she will be another Eva Cassidy. - John McPharlin