January 07, 2003

Cath Carroll "The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake"

The first time I heard the name Cath Carroll was in relation to Unrest's tribute song. I remember the record-store guy raving about Carroll; "She's a lot like Nico," he enthused, referring to True Crime Motel, her album on Unrest leader's Mark Robinson's record label. Invoking the name of the ice goddess instantly piqued my curiosity, but True Crime Motel didn't sound a thing like Nico. I still liked it, though, but it wasn't the grand statement I'd been led to believe.

It certainly didn't prepare me for England Made Me, which could have/should have been a huge-selling record, with its breathy, Sade-meets-Everything But The Girl style of intelligent, adult contemporary style. The reissue of England Made Me was most welcome, and that it did nothing chartwise really highlights Factory's failure in those morning-after years. Listening to it now, you're really struck by how grand and how talented Carroll is, and what she could have very easily been--a talented singer with intelligence behind the voice.

It would be unfair, of course, to compare the big-budget England Made Me with Carroll's latest album, The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake. True talent doesn't need a six-figure budget to justify its beauty, or, indeed, to make a beautiful song. The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake certainly sounds like a million bucks, even if it didn't cost that much to make. Carroll posseses a golden-chill of a voice, one that could sing the alphabet and leave you anxiously waiting to see how it ends. With a voice like that, though, it really doesn't matter if you've spent millions of dollars or hundreds of dollars--it's still going to come through.

To Carroll's credit, she's not trying to relive her former glories. Instead, she's doing what she does best, and that is making dark pop songs. There are obvious hints, of course, but those moments never overwhelm the album. While "Mystified" directly recalls the driving beat of "Train You're On," it's about the only place you'd notice a direct connection to England Made Me. The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake runs the gamut of musical styles, from the balladry of "7/7" the overcast pop of "The Divine Miss A," "Falling Over Tomorrow" and "Duvant Junior Prayers," and the atmospheric, heavy-breather of "Leaving Song," and Carroll never delivers anything less than her best. Of course, special mention should be made of Carroll's husband, producer Kerry Kelekovich, because his backing work is just as much a part of what's made Gondoliers a beautiful record. His musical abilities and production skills have given Carroll a full-band backing, when in fact he was the only musician backing her up in the studio! Brilliant production.

The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake is a proudly defiant record; it flows seamlessly and beautifully from beginning to end, uncompromising in its quality and its beauty. Carroll deserves an award for perseverence, and the hard work spent on this record really paid off. If you like pop music spiked with intelligence and chased with truly beautiful singing, then you have no excuse for not seeking out The Gondoliers of Ghost Lake. The mere fact that a record like this exists proves to me that some people out there still have faith in pop music, and it gives me hope that others will follow suit. Quietly innovative and always seductive, Carroll's an unknown and untapped pop goldmine. Now that you have been informed, you now have no excuse to bemoan the state of pop music.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: