Every now and then, not often, you get a genuine surprise. This is exactly what happened to me when I googled up Nine Million Bicycles, after hearing that cute, amusing song on the plane on my way back from Singapore. It turned out it was sung by a young artist by the name of Katie Melua, whom, I have to admit, I had never heard of before. I got hold of her latest CD and, expecting nothing more than a few amusing Pop songs, was utterly blown away when I heard one genuinely great Jazz/Blues song after another.
Katie Melua - Piece by Piece
Blues - 2005
1 CD - 12 tracks
Total running time: 44:38
What I was hearing was actually the work of a truely amazing singer, with a voice and style as sensuous and beautiful as the classic great female voices of Jazz and Blues.
After listening to the opening songs, I was eagerly going through the liner notes of the CD to try and figure out why I hadn't heard of this artist earlier as I found out that Piece by Piece was actually her second CD.
The net provided me with more information: Katie is apparently of mixed origins, born and raised in Georgia, then living in Belfast. Not surprisingly, Katie was first known in the UK, in fact, her first album Call off the Search was very successful there but went almost completely unnoticed throughout the rest of the world.
Despite the thick Irish accent Katie displays in interviews, she is actually quite eloquant, has interesting views on world matters, and doesn't subscribe to the standardized "European way of thinking", which is always refreshing to hear. Her origins probably have something to do with that, as they probably do with the rather literary and profound lyrics that surprise you in her songs.
Speaking of songs, it might be time to mention that Katie is a primarily a singer although she does play a little bit of guitar - basically strums a few chords on her nylon stringed electro-acoustic. Many of you (myself included) would already be running for the hills after that description. Luckily, and that's one of the many surprises this artist has in store for us, she is in no way "goofy" like a lot of the so-called professional singers. Her voice is soft yet without being week. From what I could tell in this CD, she creates intensity and expressiveness, not by screeming loudly and going into impossibly high tones, but by subtlely texturing her voice to fit the mood she wants to create and playing with dynamics, sometimes lowering her voice to a mere whisper.
The spark of interest
As I mentionned in the introduction, I first discovered this music on the plane. Air France, on that trip, had apparently forgotten to remove this song from their usual selection of appaulling old French hits. I whole-heartedly encourage them to make similar mistakes in future...
Anyhow, Nine Million Bicycles was the title of the song - nothing more than a catchy and cute love song at first listen. However, as the title maybe indicates, the song bares one question: How do you associate nine million bicycles and love? Well, there lies exactly what makes this little song special.
"Nine million bicycles" refers to how many of those transportation devices are being used everyday in Beijing which, appart from being an interesting and amusing fact, has a nice ring to it. I won't explain how the link to love is made - you'll have to listen to the song to find out - I'll just say that, associated with the lovely melody, the line "there are nine million bicycles in Beijing" is the perfect example of how lyrics, music and meaning can work together to create a really great song.
A genuine discovery
It's high time we had a look at the rest of the album which quite simply beats the hell out of Nine Million Bicycle - which was no slouch in the first place.
A voice as engaging live as in the studio
Here's a little video to illustrate Katie's skills out of the studio and on stage with just a guitar and a microphone. This a an unofficial live recording from an appearance on French TV.
Absolutely mind-blowing in my opinion. Powerful voice yet full of subtleties, sometimes down to just an intimate, spine-tingling whisper, accompanied by just a softly picked guitar, adding to the personal, and surprinsingly intense, quality of this song.
|1 ||Shy Boy ||3:28 |
|2 ||Nine Million Bicycles ||3:15 |
|3 ||Piece by Piece ||3:24 |
|4 ||Halfway up the Hindu Kush ||3:06 |
|5 ||Blues in the Night ||4:12 |
|6 ||Spider's Web ||3:58 |
|7 ||Blue Shoes ||4:39 |
|8 ||On the Road Again ||4:38 |
|9 ||Thank You Stars ||3:39 |
|10 ||Just Like Heaven ||3:35 |
|11 ||I Cried for You ||3:38 |
|12 ||I Do Believe in Love ||3:00 |