Recording with the insightful Howe Gelb (Giant Sand, from which Calexico emerged) in Tucson with his Danish band (plus guests like Andrew Bird), Tunstall - who appeared in Neil Finn's Seven Worlds Collide concerts - here turns things down from the electro-beat she explored on 2010's Tiger Suit (recorded in Berlin) in favour of her folk-poetry persona, with a nod to alt.country.
While Gelb's distinctively angular piano and guitar provide gloriously discreet but diverting colour, always central is Tunstall's emotion-driven lyrics which - because her dad and a close friend died recently - allude to mortality (the exceptional Made of Glass with Bird adding impressive whistling), space in relationships (the trembling noir-like How You Kill Me could be a torch song), hope and the power of love (most of the more expansively produced second half).
And it sounds extremely intimate (you're in the front parlour for Yellow Flower, which sounds a near-perfect rehearsal with just her and Gelb).
This is slow, muted-lighting music and what carries it, other than engrossing words and a persuasive voice, is the melodic ease on display.
Everything here rings of emotions lived, then placed in sympathetic musical settings. Rare beauty and a heart revealed.
Verdict: Beguiling folk-poetics from Scotland via the Arizona desert
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- TimeOut / elsewhere.co.nz