Agnes Obel in session for Marc Riley – BBC 6 Music – April 14, 2011 – BBC 6 Music –
Switching gears of a sort tonight. Danish singer-songwriter and tonal colorist Agnes Obel in session tonight. Recorded on April 14, 2011 for Marc Riley at BBC 6 Music.
Obel debuted as a solo singer with her first album Philharmonics (2010). She wrote, played, sang, recorded, and produced all the material herself. “The orchestral or symphonic music never interested me. I always was attracted by simple melodies, almost childish.(…) I put a long time before writing texts because the music seems to tell already a story, to project images.” According to Obel, her piano is much more than an instrument: “The piano and the singing are two equal things to me – maybe not inseparable but very connected. You can say they are like two equal voices.” She has said that, “The music is the most obvious means to express what I am, where I am.”
All of the songs on Philharmonics are original work except “Close Watch” (“I Keep A Close Watch” by John Cale) & “Katie Cruel” (a folk traditional; as the iTunes bonus track of the album). In Live à Paris, released on 11 April 2011 on iTunes, she sings a cover of Elliott Smith’s “Between The Bars”. Furthermore, Obel did a duet with Editors singer Tom Smith, performing “The Christmas Song” by Mel Tormé – to be found on the Smith & Burrows album Funny Looking Angels (released in November 2011).
Philharmonics garnered generally positive reviews with, for example, James Skinner from the BBC saying that “the compositions… are slow, sombre, sepulchral even, but not without a sense of occasionally singular beauty”. In the French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles, Johanna Seban spoke about a “disarming purity” and stated, “There is, in these deeply melancholic ballads, the clearness and reassuring nobility of bedside discs.” In Musicomh, Ben Edgell wrote that Obel “sings with a hushed and tender grace that waxes wistful and serene over yearning cello, harp, and piano vignettes. She’s a fey siren, with a dusky, near-whispered vocal that speaks to Ane Brun or Eva Cassidy.” French journalists have called her “A revelation to follow”.
Obel’s first album was also a commercial success. In March 2011, she appeared for the first time in the United States. At the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, she performed all the songs on the album.
In case you missed her the first time, or want to revisit this halcyon period of her career, hit the play button and let the notes flow over you. Try it. It works.