Sunday, January 22, 2006

ATHENA - The Forge, Basingstoke 20th January 2006

Like all sensitive young people, Athena falls in and out of love regularly; with men, with herself or with life in general. Fortunately for the rest of us, when she does so she has a habit of consigning what's in her heart to song. Better still for those of you for whom the lyrics are as important as the music, it appears that four days a week she wakes up thinking (and therefore writing) in English.
I have to confess that although she performed English songs at WOMAD last July, my memory was of the pure spacious beauty or bluesy jauntiness of her Greek songs, her beautiful crystal clear voice perfectly in tune with what sounds to me like the country's equivalent of fado or morna (is it called 'amanes'?). It's a measure of the progress that she has made since then that she is able to effortlessly move between the rootsy 'home-grown' stuff and the starkly emotional English-language songs that now just about hold sway in her set, without losing the spirit of what attracted us to her in the first place. She retains the coquettish charm and warmth of feeling, only now we know that she's wearing her heart on her sleeve, because it's all laid bare before us in each intimate lyric.
There's an extraordinary maturity to the song writing and performance (I'm reliably informed that one song of unrequited love in particular, All I See Is You, has reduced both female audience members and hard-bitten male industry professionals alike to tears), and at times I was reminded of the wonderful early jazz-inflected performances of Mathilde Santing; to that end a word needs to be said about the wonderful musicians. Tom Mason on double-bass and Werner Kristiansen on guitar are an organic marriage of Greek soul and minimalist jazz rhythm and are vital components of the sound, superbly in tune with Athena and each other but with the ability to leave enough space for the songs to breathe. What else is there packed into this 90-minute performance?
A simple tale of lost love, self-accompanied on piano, that Elvis Costello would have been proud to put on North, a cover of Black is the Colour (is it Appalachian? Scottish? Irish? It's Anglo-Greek now), and once again some Tuvan throat singing inspired by Huun Huur Tu, which is adeptly integrated into the first-half closer. And finally, that Mariza-esque a cappella finish to remind us of last year's clichéd and rather lazy comparison with the great Portugese fadista. This year's cliché is that Athena is destined for great things, which is proof that clichés can also ring true sometimes.

This review appeared in the March 2006 edition of fRoots magazine.

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