Anna Kashfi – Procurement

Anna Kashfi

Although singer Sian Webley and multi-instrumentalist James Youngjohns (along with various part-time accomplices) have been trading under the Anna Kashfi name for the best part of a decade now, Procurement is only the band’s second proper album. Whilst this sluggish release rate may have more to do with peripatetic record label arrangements, it is perhaps a schedule that fits in well with Anna Kashfi’s restrained and unrushed muse. Now even with the group’s ranks swollen to incorporate further empathetic players – including more members of likeminded current labelmates Last Harbour – Webley and Youngjohns have still gone to great lengths to stop instrumental clutter disrupting the distinctiveness of their minimalist torch ballads.

With Webley’s tones now pleasantly resembling the deadpan delicacy of Piano Magic chanteuses Caroline Potter and Angèle David-Guillou, the previously over-obvious Mazzy Star comparisons are pushed aside for Procurement. This subtle shift seems to have encouraged Youngjohns to refashion Anna Kashfi’s sound into a wider range of shapes, allowing the songs to breathe a little deeper in the process.

The gently rising “Fall” is a good place to start proceedings, with its guest vocals from Eileen Rose and a slow-motion country framing imagining a Kurt Wagner-free Lambchop. The warming campfire calmness of “A Safe Place” and “Fortune’s Wheel” adds extra Americana shades, whereas “Things Get Said” ably apes Beirut’s woozy Balkan trappings. Further in, the smouldering and desolate “Wasting” cuts darkly into the band’s dreamier heart, only to be followed by the relatively jovial counterpoint of “Friendly Fire”, which affectionately tips a hat to Calexico’s lesser-heard Spoke debut. Elsewhere, there are gentle nods to Judee Sill (on the gauzy “Tipping Point”) and perhaps even the evocative solo wares of Sandy Denny (“Button & Bows” and “My Blood Runs Thick”).

The record’s two epic-length tracks are perhaps the most likely to cause the biggest stir; namely a cover of Nick Cave’s seminal “Mercy Seat” and the potentially controversial “See The Good In Me”. Whilst Johnny Cash had the unquestionable gravitas and sage authority to reinterpret Cave’s death-row classic masterfully, how could anyone else? Well, with a skilful leading combination of Webley’s double-tracked vocals, Sarah Kemp’s serene violin lines and Youngjohns’s flickering guitars, Anna Kashfi’s ranks just about pull it off with astonishing ambition. More problematic is “See The Good In Me”, which marries a layered lysergic dronescape to a provocative PJ Harvey-like role-playing lyric too open for misinterpretation and over-examination.

A few curveballs aside, the bulk of the quietly impressive and often profound Procurement is well worth buying into for a bittersweet taste of Anna Kashfi’s soul food.