Sweet Gum Tree - The Snakes You Charm & The Wolves You Tame (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
FRENCH songwriter Arno Sojo’s solo incarnation, Sweet Gum Tree, delivers an interesting new album in the form of The Snakes You Charm & The Wolves You Tame given its ability to enchant in places and curiously underwhelm at others.
When it’s good, it’s really, really good, as in the beautiful duet Bird of Passage with Isobel Campbell, which boasts an impossibly great mix of vocal styles and some cinematic strings. It’s achingly romantic and successfully fuses elements of folk-pop with the singer’s classical-jazz interests.
Similarly, Last Chance Train comes alive during its pained – yet restrained – chorus, when the folk strumming gives rise to layered string arrangements and an almost falsetto chorus that aches with emotion.
Sojo’s penchant for strings is also evident on the deeply cinematic Astray, which also combines vocal traces of David Bowie with David Byrne and sung-spoken. Yet it works better instrumentally than it does vocally, perhaps because of his decision to barely sing a lot of the lyrics. The inclusion of jazzy horn arrangements is a bonus, though, underlining the feeling that even when it does fail to live up to its highs, there’s always something interesting going on.
The same vocal problem besets The Crimson Flush, which never really gets going, while even album opener Redhead may leave you feeling torn over how well it works. One of the album’s more instantly gratifying tracks may have worked better as an opener.
But – and here’s the rub – in the main this is worth checking out even if the opening paragraph of this review maybe suggests otherwise. Chew Up Spit Out, for instance, is a beauty… combining some folk-pop elements with lush piano arrangements (sparingly used) and provocative lyricism (it could be called Beck-like), while The Vulnerable Almighty builds from a sparse opening to something achingly poignant and, again, strings and piano backed. Likewise, November Daughter.
Download picks: New Rays, Bird of Passage, Last Chance Train, Chew Up Spit Out, The Vulnerable Almighty
Watch the video for Bird of Passage: