(29 December 2004) Sharon Lewis was one half--the other half being Natasha Jones--of the UK-based duo Pooka who made three albums and one further limited edition CD in the decadefollowing their debut in 1993. Pooka's music ignored much of accepted songwriting convention, the pieces often being linear in form, and featured some of the most inventive vocal harmony yet commited to little silver discs.
They soaked up influences like sponges and then totally corrupted them to their own unique view of the world. Pooka albums were never anything less than fascinating, full of the unexpected and sometimes the originality was breathtaking. Lyrically they could range from the blatently obvious to the completely obscure, often via the utterly profound. And they weren't afraid to venture into the sexually explicit either. They just wrote as they felt.
The Hour Lillies (2004) is Sharon's first release since the duo went their separate ways. It can be looked upon as a nine track EP as it lasts for barely thirty minutes and it is sheer bliss. The simple, at times almost minimalist, arrangements of the pieces are designed to throw the spotlight onto the songwriting and Sharon's voice--such a change in a world where the norm is for desperate over-arrangement to hide the weakness of the writing.
These pieces are filigree things, fragile and beautiful. Most feature Sharon on keyboards and guitars, and further subtle shades of light and dark are provided by Andy Nice who weaves mysterious cello lines on the opening two songs, "April Fool" and "Lost Soul," Scott Smith, who blows a subdued harmonica on "Old Man Young Town," and Ian Price who adds a distant fluteand sax to "Leaving On A Ship." That track and "Avaddon (destruction)" also feature drums and bass, the latter also having strings.
Sharon writes almost all of the material; the closing track "Magic Baby" has Chris Kirkland credited as co-lyricist--he also adds vocals and double bass to this track--and "Heard" is Sharon's setting of words by Manchester based poet, Carole Batton. This song is performed virtually accapella; Sharon playing just seven telling notes on her Rhodes.
Vocal harmonies on the album are used sparingly and are both imaginative--the closing few seconds of "Old Man Young Town" for example is truly magical--and in some cases totally unexpected as in "Avaddon." In such an independent spirit as Sharon Lewis, there are few useful reference points. Certainly shadows of Pooka can be glimpsed on the beautiful "Crazy October Days" with its strange, atmospheric soundscape and unison vocals. More surprising perhaps are the shades of early Kate Bush, most notably on "Leaving On A Ship."
This is an extraordinary album, each song feels like an intimate, stolen moment, as if the artist is revealing something of herself to you alone. Sharon also arranged, mixed and produced almost the whole album and her her grandfather took the cover photo. The album is available from Sharon's website. Unlike anything else you'll have heard this year, this is a little piece of musical heaven. Exquisite.--Jamie Field in Kington, England and Russ Elliot in New York