Anika Moa: In Swings the Tide

By Russell Baillie

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Herald Rating: ****

This album marks what's been a rough period for the earthiest, frankest and arguably most self-involved of our star singer-songwriters.

As discussed at length in last Saturday's canvas profile, Moa's been through a major relationship break-up followed by the terminal illness of her musician father, who had been absent for much of her childhood.

He gets a telling clear-eyed tribute on the track My Old Man, a bookend of sorts to Mother from her debut 2001 album Thinking Room.

But if some raw emotions underlie the inspiration for that song and many others here, it's not immediately apparent. The album's dozen songs are generally sweet, amiable, quietly spoken sad-eyed things.

Many show Moa's new-found enthusiasm for gentle country rhythms, lush string-laden arrangements and much evidence that this is the most musically accomplished of her three albums after the polish of her American major label debut and 2005's uneven Stolen Hill.

While a certain amount of her trademark lack of guile remains in the occasionally awkward lyrics, there's a level of songcraft here that wasn't always apparent on her earlier work.

With the slight Wise Man Say, it doesn't start off particularly strongly but soon finds its feet on the lush single Dreams In My Head before Miss Universe brings in that country jangle to good effect. This gets further utilised on the positively hayseed Day In Day Out, the airy Honey You'll Be Alright, and the foreboding closing track Thinking About Tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Moa veers neatly into torch tune on the woozy The Blind Woman, but her the attempts at gently swinging jazzpop on the title track and ditty Hangin' Around are the set's forgettable lightweights.

Otherwise, it seems, Moa has realised that just pouring your heart out isn't enough.

And while a couple of the songs can blend into each other, much of this makes for a disarming, bittersweet album with a lightly concealed emotional punch.

All of which makes In Swings the Tide Moa's highwater mark.

Label: EMI
Verdict: Tough times make for terrific tunes on her third album

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