Avital Raz – The Fallen Angel’s Unravelling Descent

Album Review | Sotones | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Avital Raz started out as a child singer of classical music in Jerusalem, after completing degrees in vocal performance and composition she studied Dhrupad singing in India.  The Fallen Angel’s Unravelling Descent weaves through Troubadour Americana, Baroque choral singing, Indian Drones and the cadences of Middle Eastern Makam.  Opening track “TV” is so country with the slightly edgy but warm vocal of Canadian singer Mary Margaret O’Hara.  Backing mixes country and European accordion music as Raz’s glorious voices runs free over the top.  “Bored Lord” is a spiritual delivered with Iggy Pop’s rock n roll insolent curled lip or Nico’s chilling majesty.  The vocal is beautiful and bitter at the same time delivered with a punk indifference and strut.  “Male Order Bride” released as a single is a dark but wry commentary on gender equality.  If Edith Piaf had covered country and infused it with Roger Miller’s snappy delivery, the result would smoulder like this, a dirty talking blues, delivered out of the corner of the mouth.  “The Damn Flood” chirps and swirls with Eastern Oud, Ney and Duduk.  Again there is a tension between the beautifully mystic backing and the bleakly beautiful vocals.  The lyric has a written beauty and the delivery is dark and nihilist in a Brechtian or Punk way.  The Duduk playing and percussion that opens “Isabel St Revisited” is hypnotic and beautiful, riding on a great atmosphere Raz delivers a dark lyric.  Listening to Avital’s vocal is like being cornered by a large snake the voice rises and falls, its cadence bobbing and swaying like the head of a python, the whoops or high notes when they come are as vicious as a bite.  Jukebox showcases a western swing vocal backing that is twisted but delightful.  Raz sings over the top with the presence and rich resonance of early Leonard Cohen. “Regarding Angels” takes the chorus to celestial level, with a huge choir behind the American guitar and vocal.  Both this song and the following The Fallen Angel’s Unravelling Descent chop about with solo talking blues passages, delivered almost as asides set against trance like instrumentation and waves of backing vocals.  What sounds messy when described on the page, rises and falls, builds and breaks like a great wave form of a song with a bubbling rhythm, sounding glorious to the ear.  “Shame” has the mix of gothic American and dark humour typical of The Handsome Family.  Raz is an interesting listen with the falsetto doo wop backing that is almost Frank Zappa, challenging but compelling and always rewarding.  “My Lover is Cold” is a collision of traditional themes, set to a jaunty but sinister tune with her delivery seductive and alluring.  “Yossi’s Song” recalls the decorative wordless singing of the much loved Sheila Chandra as Raz’s Indian training comes through.  The arrangement is simpler with a solitary beautiful resonant guitar picking a counterpoint to the glorious vocal.  The final two tracks leave the most beguiling track till the end with their universally appealing tales of love and love gone very wrong.  Like Cohen’s “Suzanne”, a song that “Sorry About The Pills” reminds me of, the final song features a beautifully delivered lyric with darker depths.  We are in Van Morrison’s “TB Sheets” and “Slim Slow Slider” territory, the swirling slide guitar that wafts through the song is pure Pink Floyd late 60s psych and Avital’s vocal is transcendental and just beautiful weaving a bitter tale.  From beginning to end an album that is light and shade, darkness and light, one beautifully contrasting the other.  Always interesting and always surprising.