I first discovered Linah Rocio in the Summer of 2016 when she opened for fellow Aveline Records artist Ruth Theodore at the, always welcoming, Green Note in London’s Camden. Finding good music at Green Note is not exactly difficult as they seem to manage to find great acts every night of the week but I was especially taken with Linah’s short set and have been looking forward to her album.
I expressed my thoughts in my review of the show (please forgive me as I quote myself) “Performing solo at the piano Linah demonstrated an impressive vocal range and I was especially taken with her piano playing which exhibited both tenderness and attack. Her closing number ‘Kill The Monsters’ sounded especially good and bodes well for her second album ‘Warrior Talk’ due early 2017”. Well 2017 has arrived and so has ‘Warrior Talk’ and I’m pleased to report my positive thoughts on the show have been confirmed with maybe a twist or two in the tale.
If you have any preconceptions based on the London show you might be surprised by ‘Warrior Talk’ which features a full band and the result is a multi-layered jazzy beast of an album that continues to reveal itself after a good few playbacks. The Jazz influences are no real surprise as they seem evident in her playing and may well relate to her formative years. Linah is now based in Switzerland but is originally from Chile with stops along the way in Hong Kong so her musical palette would, I assume, have been shaped by the range of cultures she has been exposed to over the years. Linah uses her voice as another instrument switching from a gentle, almost childlike, approach to full on banshee howl / yelp. This is reinforced by lyrical ideas that seem fragmented and often hard to decipher -reminiscent of the David Bowie approach he called “cut ups” - this ambiguity can sometimes be used as a mask, especially if the lyrics are of a personal nature.
Musically the album was recorded in five days in Bern, Switzerland with Linah and Columbian Luis Cruz co-producing with the vocals recorded separately in Zurich. All of the musicians on the album were invited to contribute fully to the recordings and add their ideas to help shape the songs resulting in tracks that benefit from unexpected time changes and musical interludes. It’s refreshing to find an album that has you confused but eager to unravel the mysteries of the material.
Opening track ‘Everything’ sets the scene with a staccato piano / vocal melody while guitarist Simon Rupp alternates between stabbing chord progressions and a wash of discordant electric noise. The result is edgy, unsettling and definitely a statement of intent. The ambient sounds of the streets of NYC (courtesy of the production / mixing involvement of Alvaro Alencar), trumpet and Linah’s piano welcome us to ‘L.A. or New York’ which is wonderfully off-kilter thanks to the rhythm section of drummer Christof Jaussi and Robert Aeberhard’s upright bass. The almost spoken word / whispered vocal on ‘Elisabeth’ perfectly finds a match with the piano but lyrically this is very dark as our protagonist deals with the reality that she is unable to conceive the child she imagines would make her life complete. ‘Kill The Monsters’ follows and has rightly been chosen as the first single from the album. Lyrically Linah is dealing with her inner demons but with a solid rhythm track, especially the upright bass which really shines here, throw in an extended guitar break for melody and ‘Monsters’ is piano driven pop rock of the highest order reminiscent of early Vanessa Carlton (a very good thing in my book).
The title track ‘Warrior Talk’ is up next and beautifully demonstrates the approach here. The piano takes the lead with an extended intro and it would have been easy for this to be a piano ballad with just the lyric to carry the weight but not one to take the easy option….Linah throws the kitchen sink at the tune. Bass underpins the piano and then the strident, marching drums kick in to reinforce the warrior theme while Simon Rupp adds electric guitar lines which distort to muddy the soundscape. ‘Amy Jade’ follows and transports us to a smoky Parisian Jazz club with the rhythm section locking it down while Rupp steps up with some really nice jazzy chords as Linah pays homage to Amy Winehouse. The dark, brooding rhythmic power of ‘The Right Soil’ showcases a terrific lead vocal (possibly the best on the album) enhanced by an inventive backing vocal arrangement that features Linah and Linda Kratky while the instrumentation bubbles and squeaks and the trumpet courtesy of Silvan Schmid is an especially welcome little touch.
‘Lover’s Morning’ and the following ‘Tomorrow Baby’ feel a little like two sides of the same coin. The former has a gently poppy positivity which feels crushed by the later a piano ballad with a darkly unsettling quality, to which Ambrosius Huber’s cello adds depth, which is further enhanced by Linah’s vocal. The epic ‘Oh No More Hiding’ all rumbling jazzy rhythms and chiming guitars builds gradually and just when you think it can’t get any bigger it explodes, with oddly discordant trumpet and the crunch of hard rock guitar chords, before it settles down for an impressive trumpet solo which heralds the return of those hard-hitting guitars. ‘Oh No More Hiding’ is a musical tour-de-force and an album highlight.
‘Megan’ finds bassist Robert Aeberhard anchoring the tune over a cross hand / rim shot drum track with an unexpected banjo supporting Linah’s piano and a light airy vocal. The jazzy backbeat and use of banjo is an odd choice but works really well and is another example of Linah and her band taking musical chances. The album concludes with a bonus track the guitar driven pop / rock ‘Do The Drug’ which allows the music to cleverly shroud the difficult subject matter which is delivered with an impassioned almost desperate vocal.
‘Warrior Talk’ is a fine record but not necessarily an easy listen. Like so many of the better albums it takes time for it to unfold and reveal those little musical and lyrical moments that you’d missed on previous spins. ‘Warrior Talk’ comes highly recommended.