Do not make the mistake of brushing her off
as some “PJ Harvey” and decide you’ve heard it before. You haven’t. Anna Calvi is a force. From her red lip stick to her slide guitar, this babe is sultry. She’s been cleaning up award nominations, including the Mercury Prize, ever since she released her self-titled first album. In 2012, she won the European Border Breakers Award for the UK, her home country.
I’m not sure what’s in the water over in England, but incredible female, solo artists seem to be churning out like crazy. The downside is they all get lumped together and seldom are they recognized for their unique, personal sounds. Anna’s sound is brave and bold. She’s so brave, in fact, that she’s not afraid of covers (even early in her career).
Most notably, her cover of TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” rocks – and I mean rocks. Her guitar squeals and her voice quakes. The song is almost unrecognizable from the original, unless you know the lyrics well. In fact, it actually feels like a more accurate fit for the lyrics the way she plays it. It’s more layered and malevolent. It’s got teeth.
It’s not her first go-round with knocking a cover out that either adds or multiples the original.She’s done David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision,” Lennard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc,” Elvis Presley’s “Surrender” and more. She even caught Brian Eno’s attention and adopted him as her musical guru – not a bad example to follow if you’re trying to become a world famous, successful musician.
It must be said: She knows how to play her guitar. Holy shit. Watching her wail on her 1990’s Telecaster is religious when it’s plugged into her vintage, red Vox AC30. I hear her influences every time. Bowie. Hendrix. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. David Lynch. The mix is delicious.
She got the vision when she was really young. She fell in love with the violin when she was 6 years old. When she turned 8, she dumped the bow and went straight for the electric guitar. By the time she was 10, she had rigged a cassete player karaoke machine to get her voice over the tracks she recorded. At this rate of amping it up a notch every couple years, you can only imagine what this genius babe has done since her escape from her mom’s womb back in 1980.
An “art rocker” at heart, she’s even gone so far as to infiltrate the fashion world. Gucci, Vogue, Chanel – they all bought her dinner at least once, if you know what I mean. She’s got a few new outfits to try to squeeze in afterwards, as well. She could do worse.
She couldn’t do better than her self-titled debut album. Again, holy shit. She instantly proved that she was not just a “cover artist.” She came out with a beautiful single, “Desire.” Brian Eno sang background vocals on it. He did the same on my favorite track, “Suzanne and I.” Make sure you click that link. You have to. I’ll see you in 4:13. Bye.
So, I told you so. In-fucking-credible. When I hear this song, her voice trembles underneath the top layer of my skin. The melodic, haunting breakdown makes the chills actually pop out from where they’re hiding until I’m covered in goosebumps.
These lyrics always get me:
But we hold, hold, hold it down / Oh we hold, hold, hold it down / Cause the night calls me
When the wind leads behind the world / When the wind leads behind the world
I’ve got a thing for repetition. So, does she apparently. I think she understands that songs need to be perfect in the sense that they can be executed live and on record. Repetition is a live show gem. Don’t know the lyrics? Well, idiot – Anna will repeat it until you have no excuses not to wail along with her.
What I really love about her is the fact that she’s got huge balls. I mean that. I do. She covered fucking Beyoncé’s “Naughty Girl” for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge in 2012. Yes, if you’re wondering if I’m going to be super, obnoxiously adamant that you also watch this video, then you are correct. There’s something about her live presence that seals it for me.
I need to go see her. Who’s coming with me?
Leigh Greaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.