KATY CARR Polonia Album Review :
I’d been increasingly taken with the work of this original singer-songwriter over the course of her four albums to date, with the most recent, 2012’s Paszport, representing the most consummate expression of her art thus far. Katy, though born in Nottingham, has a strong affinity with her Polish ancestry (on her mother’s side), which is allied to a special interest in history (in particular that of the 1940s), and the titling of her latest offering reflects this. Polonia is the Latin name for Poland (the realm that Katy is celebrating in her music and song), and also happens to be the title of a symphonic prelude for orchestra which English composer Edward Elgar wrote for fellow-composer (and later, Polish President) Ignacy Paderewski.
The title song contains further resonances of the Englishness of Elgar, not exactly in the musical idiom but more overtly in the lyric’s reference to “Sweet England”. Other episodes within this “concept album” (for that is what it must be classed) chronicle important moments in Polish history, especially that of the under-developed area of Western historical research, i.e. World War II’s Eastern Front and the mighty military force of the freedom fighters of Poland. Katy’s songs bravely and fearlessly explore those people who fought not only for an independent Poland but also for the freedom of the west, especially Great Britain – and not many folks know this, so Katy’s doing us all a service by turning the spotlight on these unsung heroes, who include some notable women – freedom fighters, special agents and code-breakers – while even an actress (Pola Negri) makes an appearance.
On paper, Katy’s chosen themes may appear rather too earnest and even weighty, but the music she uses to express those themes, while serious in purpose and immensely accomplished in execution, never proves too heavy-going; its demeanour is both accessible and entertaining – indeed, on occasion, almost too entertaining perhaps, in the catchy, chirpy manner of pop/show-tunes. Katy’s intelligent songwriting is adorned with comparably intelligent and often complex musical arrangements by Nigel Of Bermondsey, featuring the musicianship of the likes of Oliver Parfitt, Sam M. Kelly and Steve Beresford, with contributions from B.J. Cole, Guy Schalom and others. Katy’s own voice proves equal to whatever expressive task she sets herself, and is never less than stunning, especially on highly ornamented outings like Christine The Great. I can’t help hearing resonances of Kate Bush in the melodic contours and vocal phrasing of some songs (Mr. Trebus for instance), but for the most part Katy doesn’t sound like any other singer.
Finally, this is a long CD – that in itself is not a problem, but with the sheer amount of dazzling invention on display there’s sometimes a feeling of surfeit of creativity and I feel a need to step back for a while and take a break – which is not something I tend to do with long CDs. Katy’s work is sufficiently original and individual that it really does need to be treated with respect and listened to properly, so a deliberate self-imposed intermission may well turn out to be mandatory for the listener. During which he/she can luxuriate in the brilliantly presented accompanying booklet, attractively designed (artfully illustrated by Susan Burghart), which supplies commendably detailed explanatory song notes and complete song texts (in both English and Polish) together with personnel credits. A quality product indeed.