In his comment on my first post about Rachael Dadd back in August 2007, my truffle-hunting friend and honorary professor of pop Tim Hopkins said that ‘Rozi Plain looks like she’ll do something jaw-droppingly great in a minute’. Well, just as Tim foresaw, Rozi Plain has indeed done something jaw-droppingly great, and it comes in the form of her long player for Fence, Inside over here. In those rare spaces that the business of Christmas left, I played it whenever I could. Now that the decks have been cleared, I finally have the chance to tell you about it.
Jaw-dropping in more ways than one. It’s the disc’s second song, ‘Stolen shark’, which makes you sit up and pay close attention. The opening line – ‘It all came from snagging my jumper on its tooth’ – hooks you as surely as the character in Rozi’s narrative has been clamped and chomped by her fictional shark. A wiry electric guitar chases down acoustic rhythms as the tale unfolds and Rozi and Rachael Dadd harmonise over the character’s grisly end – ‘I could feel every bite cuz I was still alive’.
‘Stolen shark’ is followed by ‘Barbs and velcro’, which reinforces the notion that Rozi’s voice has similar tints and shades as Karen Dalton’s, though inevitably she does not yet sing with the same weight in her voice. Conversely ‘Barbs and velcro’ is also as close as Rozi comes to straight-ahead pop, the song pushed along by a joyful running rhythm which is at perfect odds with the blueness of the melody. There are a lot singers being touted about now for their ability to be pop but something other, or idiosyncratic but sufficiently mainstream for mass consumption, so many that it’s hard to get around to hear them all and establish what I strongly suspect to be the case – that few if any are half as melodically and harmonically gifted as Rozi Plain. Not only that, but also as undistracted in their focus on the music, by which I mean that if you took away the world, Rozi would deliver you more or less the same sort of song as she does with the world and all its distractions very much in place.
Her music has a coastal sense of space and time – you can almost hear the slow lap of waves on ‘Foot out’. That sense of unhurried openness also comes through on the letter-delivery blues of ‘The post’ in spite of the cryptic lyric. ‘Knives and forks’ too has a steely metronomic tick, a clockwork flow against which Rozi sets more deliciously dreamy harmony. Lyrically and stylistically ‘Roof rook crook crow’ is not far off something that Kevin Ayers might have wittily interpreted from a dream he had in 1969, or that Syd Barrett might have conjured out of his confusion around the time of The madcap laughs. But neither of those gents could layer up harmony like Rozi Plain, who turns her song into an ever-ascending spiral iced with François Marry’s trumpet.
Finally, there is to finish, ‘Fruit’, a song whose pointedly mundane lyric Rozi has given an impossibly sad melody. Amazing, what you can do with two voices, a guitar and clarinet, and a shaky pot of salt.
You have the chance to catch the magic combination of Rozi Plain and Rachael Dadd at the Slaughtered Lamb in London on Thursday 29th January.