July 2007 Review of Fingers & Thumbs by Mike Davies
The titular digits are all over this, the British singer songwriter’s follow-up to 2003’s equally literate Scissors In My Pocket. They’re present in the eponymous love song (which references both King Lear and TS Eliot) as she sings how ‘with my hand outstretched I read your scars from head to toe’, they’re there on This One I Made For You, a bittersweet song of sorrow to a baby whose ‘tiny heart flutters between my fingers and thumbs’ twinned with images of motherhood and war in a place ‘made of blood and bones’.
And they surface again on the closing track, Matilda, a chilling folksy piano metaphorical murder ballad sung from the perspective of the title character wiggling her toes, waiting to be found under the stones.
It’s a companion piece to the preceding The Woods, a leafy Hansel and Gretel inspired eyewitness account of lost, murdered, children who ‘lie blanketed beneath the mouldering leaves’ in the dank countryside.
The motif of dead or disappearing children stems from the fact Paulusma suffered two miscarriages in the time between albums, painfully yet poetically recorded on the dust-coated sway of Day One as, evocative of Victoria Williams with her country tinged little girl vocals, she sadly notes ‘all the seeds that I sow, though I try, they won’t grow’, the song full of images of her body as barren land. The good news is she gave birth to a baby daughter (born on her own birthday) during the recording of the album.
Elsewhere she treats on domestic violence and forced sex on the bluesy rumble of Ready Or Not, offers forgiveness on the slow rocking Back To The Start, and celebrates the dizzy joy of love with almost childish abandon with Where I’m Coming From and its surging right here, right now chorus.
Perhaps the most striking cut though is the opening Godgrudge which explores middle-eastern religious and political conflict to a drone-like backing, weighty guitar riffs and rimshots that sound like you’re listening to the feed in from another track.
A lot more electric than her debut, taking her beyond its folksy Joni Mitchell comparisons into references points now more likely to include Beth Gibbons and Aimee Mann, this deserves a very big hand.
Mike Davies July 2007
Live Review: Slaughtered Lamb 26th January 2006
17 February 2006
reviewed by Rich Barnard on the VAC website www.thevac.co.uk
The last time I saw Polly Paulusma, she was playing a packed out Lock 17, sporting full band and string quartet. Riding high on good reviews for her debut album ‘Scissors In My Pocket’ and after a summer of festivals, she was about to embark on her first tour of America, and would land support slots with Jamie Cullum, Divine Comedy and Joseph Arthur. Eighteen months on, it’s an unbelievable treat to see her back, playing solo in the kind of small, cold, candle-lit acoustic club that she started out in. It’s a conspicuously low-profile gig, showcasing all new material, but there is standing room only at the back and you get the sense that quite a few people have been turned away.
The basement of the Slaughtered Lamb has an understated cool, far removed from the clatter of the city clientele rattling their jewellery upstairs. Down below it’s a black brick-walled affair with an eclectic assortment of bohemian seating (when was the last time you saw a chaise longue at a gig?) It reminds me of the River Bar on Tower Bridge before they tarted it up and took its soul. The setting suits the sophisticated and intimate nature of Paulusma’s poetic and often dark songs. Weaving smart rhymes like ‘bathroom / half-gloom’ and ‘extinguish / unencumbered English’ against complex-but-not-in-the-least-bit-jazzy chord progressions is evidently (still) what Polly does well. Her secret weapon though has to be her exquisitely English singing voice, which when pushed is on the verge of ’60s singer Melanie; and when soft, is as sultry as Suzanne Vega.
But back to basements and gloom… This is Paulusma’s first gig in six months and she has pre-warned us that her second album – which has already been some time in the making – will have a darker, louder edge. Although there is (deep breath) an electric guitar on stage, I’m glad to discover that the new material does not reveal any Cradle of Filth or similar influences. And aside from the gloriously discordant moments in a song about killing babies, which features the aforementioned electric axe, there is seemingly little change in her style. That is not to say that there is no evidence of evolution, because Paulusma is the kind of songwriter that will challenge herself as a matter of course. Anyone who brings out three guitars and a piano to play a solo half-hour set is someone who has constant development on their mind. Likewise the subject matter veers far and wide from identity, love and quarter-life crises; to being invisible, hide-and-seek and yes, you did read it right the first time, killing babies.
It’s nice to see the rawness of an artist grappling with new, freshly arranged songs, especially as none of these are basic three-chord wonders. One of the songs has been in Polly’s live set for a while, but in the others you can just catch the concentration of a performer whose music so often seems effortless. These have a vitality to them that will inevitably be diminished after another two years of hard touring gets its hands on them. You can tell that this crowd, myself included, feel lucky to be here at their inception.