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Paula Frazer & Tarnation - Now It's Time

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Artist: Paula Frazer & Tarnation

Album: Now It's Time

Label: Birdman

Review date: Mar. 9, 2007


One of the loveliest voices in contemporary music belongs to Paula Frazer, icy pure and ghostly at the top, yet warm and natural and fluid in the middle. If she'd grown up in Italy instead of rural Georgia, she might have been an opera singer, but instead, she turned her attention to pop and country. With Tarnation in the 1990s, she added Americana flourishes to 4AD's stable of unearthly female singers. Later, under her own name, she spun out widely spaced but wonderful albums influenced by Patsy Cline and Ennio Morricone, Billie Holiday and Nick Cave. Now, splitting the difference, she's recording as Paula Frazer & Tarnation, which considering that she essentially is Tarnation, is as redundant as the phrase pizza pie...but just as welcome.

Like 2005's Leave the Sad Things Behind, Now It's Time concerns itself with love, loss and the passage of time. "These childish things left me sad / Probably can't be mended / The end was already planned / Long before it ended," sings Frazer in the gorgeous title track, with the sort of rueful acceptance that only comes with long experience. Even "Bitter Rose" with its tipsy barroom piano opening and feathery "la la la" embellishments, is at its heart a song about love that's falling apart even while it's happening. And "Pretend, the most flat-out gorgeous of these songs, flickers from hopeful major chords to haunting minor ones and back again, sadness and hope intermingled like light and shade.

Frazer works with many of the same people as on her previous album. Longtime collaborator Patrick Main is here again on keyboards (and much more subdued than he is with Oranger). The Moore Brothers lend whispery harmonies to the dark-toned "Nowhere." Arrangements everywhere, from the gospel chorus at the end of "August Days" to the booming girl-group drum beat of "Another Day," are subtly at odds with expectations, playfully upending alt.country conventions. But mostly it is Frazer, singing across an extraordinary range with absolute clarity, in unearthly trills (the beginning of "Pretend" sounds more like a flute than a human voice) and countrified flutters and slides.

In fact, Frazer's voice is almost distracting; you're so transfixed by the voice itself that it is only with difficulty that you can consider equally important things like songwriting, lyrics and instrumentations. And yet these elements, too, are pure pleasure, with melodies as inevitable as Appalachian field recordings juxtaposed with urbane lyrics warm, enveloping arrangements that are just restrained enough to let the songs breathe. It's hard to believe that a world gone gaga about Norah Jones doesn't have room for a record this good.

By Jennifer Kelly

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