You know that you are listening to a very special recording when its music combines power, grace and invention in a series of songs that may or may not be obviously linked to each other, yet describe a universe to which you could happily belong. Wonderland by the vocalist Coco Love Alcorn is such a record, a one in a million pot of gold by a one in a million singer. You cannot plan an event such as this; it simply happens as if by magic, or when the energy in the world around you aligns perfectly. It unleashes something resembling pure ecstasy that is born of pain, for sure, but also of knowing joy like that of water rushing downhill, or soaring on a wing. Coco seems to be born of the same stuff and it shows in every sung word.
Her singing, then, is predictably high in quality. Cries, shouts, whispers, glissandos, episodes of ululating melisma – all feature as Coco rings the technical changes in her quest to render musically the visceral emotional content of such experiences. The attenuated, anxious threnody of “Trouble” at the work’s opening is magical. Later, whiplash chords mimic the piercing sorrows in “Mary Mary” (curiously misspelled on the inside of the CD package as “Mark Mary”) conjuring a deep, indigo-blue feeling. A few songs later, on “Roots and Wings” the music invokes the subterranean rumble of belonging and the flapping alary effect of breaking out and soaring with effortless beauty; pliant, subtly expressive, never forced.
Coincidentally – hardly surprisingly – Coco is in the company of Alan Mackie (contrabass), and Mark Mariash (percussion) on both, together with a ‘found object’ on the former song). Both musicians (particularly Mackie) stand out for their plangency and eloquence towards the music. The works themselves are unflinchingly intense and rather dark in complexion, rising to visionary heights as they progress, each in their own time and place. One cannot also forget the role – or roles, actually – played by Andy Sheppard who appears now as a bassist and organist, keyboardist and vocalist, now as a sound engineer and mixer and now as a production supremo. But ultimately it is Coco Love Alcorn who sheers the supplicatory songs for her music’s salvation to a rapt, mystical conclusion in “That Old Feeling”, with Robbie Grunwald also playing a defining role in the dramatic, singularly involving narrative.
Track List: 1: Good News; 2: Trouble; 3: The River; 4: Mary Mary; 5: Unbreakable; 6: Wonderland; 7: Tiny Lights; 8: Old Habits Die Hard; 9: My Day; 10: Roots and Wings; 11: That Old Feeling.
Personnel: Coco Love Alcorn: vocals, ukulele (3, 7), bodhrán (4) and handclaps (9); Alan Mackie: contrabass (1, 4, 5, 6, 10), violin (1, 5), vocals (3, 5, 7, 10); Mark Mariash: drums (1, 2, 5, 6, 8) and percussion (1, 4, 9, 10), found object (4) and vocals (3); Jon Foster: drums (1, 10) and percussion (1, 4) and vocals (3); Drew McIvor: piano (1, 11), accordion bellows (4), acoustic guitar (5) and vocals (3, 5, 7, 10); Robbie Grunwald: piano (2, 6, 11), Fender Rhodes (2), keyboards (8), vocals (3, 6) and handclaps (9); Keira McArthur: vocals (3, 6); Andy Sheppard: bass (2), organ (2), keyboards (5) and vocals (3); Emerson Gestrin: vocals (7); Beth Hamilton: handclaps (9); Rick Gunn and the Bedford United Church Congregation (NS): vocals 10).