Louise Le May – A Tale Untold

Louise Le May - A Tale Untold

Louise Le May – A Tale Untold

Back in the good old days (yeah, right) if you hadn’t made some kind of musical splash by the grand old age of, say, twenty-five, it was widely accepted that taking your Dad’s well-meant advice and finally knuckling down to your Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries day-job was probably a wise move. Speaking as one who didn’t get signed by a label until I was thirty-six, I’ve always been grateful that those days have long since passed, the more so when I come across a pleasure as unexpected as Louise Le May’s adept out-of-the-blue debut album A Tale Untold.

Being beyond the first flush, it’s still somewhat fortuitous that this collection of Le May’s songs ever saw the light of day and such luminaries as DJ and former El Records factotum Chris Evans and long-term indie mover and shaker Louis Philippe must be thanked for (in the former case) astutely recognising the quality of and disseminating Louise’s original rough demos and (in the latter) artfully handling the arrangement duties that brought this album to full fruition. The road, it seems, was long.

Yet as nurtured as this release may have been, the end result is no product of mentored guidance. A Tale Untold, from top to tail, is thoroughly Le May’s show. Singer-songwriters (for such she is) as a breed can incline towards either over earnest pleas or stern pronouncements as modes of lyrical delivery and thus render their territory a little tiresome. Arriving at the party fully formed, however, (to really mix my metaphors) allows Louise to adroitly bypass that whole jejune conceit and the narratives in all of her songs prove masterpieces of both economical lyrical persuasion and sheer vocal poise. That Le May is something of a Kate Bush fan becomes evident during the progress of the songs, although vocally she’s as reminiscent of Alison Goldfrapp during her faux-folk period with a hint of Lindsay Moore’s pensive “I Start Counting” and especially a de-cutesified Noosha Fox (I kid you not!), a far more resonant and (how to put this?) adult vocal presence than our Kate. Indeed, Le May does share both Bush’s imaginative sweep and freshness and matches her in the sophistication of her melody lines, yet steers largely clear of the blowsy, over-egged, hippy-dippyness that can undermine even the best of KB’s creations. Here the tone is well-earthed, the mysteries of life are wryly observed and as personal or idiosyncratic as the songs may be, the feeling is always that Louise is in the world with you, sharing it, not in some introspective parallel universe.

Arrangement wise A Tale Untold is a piano-centric affair, wisely allowing Le May’s voice centre stage position, dealing in effective and tastefully restrained embellishments (double-bass, string quartet and even a burst of cajon from Young Marble Giants’ Stuart Moxham) and not distractions. There’s the odd occasion when the shadow of La Bush falls a little too heavily upon proceedings for my taste, “Be My Guru” being an example. Other than that one could highlight pretty much the entire complement of songs present as particularly deserving of attention, the more so as their variety of tone is remarkable in itself. But, as space won’t permit, here’s the top of the cream.

A better melodically balanced song than “Cassandra” is hard to think of outside the realm of mid-’60s McCartney. Its lyrics of suburban limbo and longing find poetry in the ordinary and its double-edged sunniness and sadness are equally reminiscent of the glory days when Macca kept one eye warm and one eye cold. The clock-tick, Jacques Brel ‘world impatience’ influenced piece that is “Photographic” riffs on the hallucinogenic thinness of a repetitive life and contains a wordless vocal hook that simply does not let go. Meanwhile, the chorus of the deliberately sparse “Sink And Swim” is made gloriously enormous by simple dint of Le May’s massed twisting and descending lyrical lines.

Primus inter pares status, however, goes to the sublime and haunting tones of opener “Broken Child”. An almost Henry Jamesesque ghost-story of a song, featuring a beautifully understated scoring of woodwind and reminiscent of Serafina Steer’s criminally underrated “Peach Heart” this paean to the memory of an unhappy past epitomises the union of emotional complexity and expressive simplicity of which Le May is so singularly capable.

All said, A Tale Untold is a genuine ‘keeper’ of an album and a work – I can’t resist saying – that will grow in the telling.

Folkwit Records