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Did Anyone Hear This?: Tina Dico, 'A Beginning, A Detour ...'

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A semi-regular blog feature in which I discuss a record that's worth noting -- but not new. Because there's life beyond Tuesday, and the cutting edge is usually duller than you expect ...

dico.jpgOK, so Sia's new album is ... meh. She excelled working with Zero 7 and her first solo outings, but there seem to be too many cooks in the kitchen on her new pop CD. Another former Zero 7 vocalist, however, haunts me still. Tina Dico, popular in her native Denmark, two years ago stepped out of her pop-folk arrangements and released a stripped-down trio of EPs in one package titled "A Beginning, A Detour, An Open Ending." This is where I restrain myself from unleashing a torrent of superlatives to describe how these songs continue to stun me. Suffice to say, if this year's regurgitated Lilith Fair lineup included more singers with this much heart, insight and way with a simple tune, I'd be in line already.

This collection is an odd one: a packaged set of three EPs recorded here and there, when this Danish Grammy winner had the chance between tours. The production quality is impressively consistent, but even more singular is Dico's voice -- her figurative one, in her writing. The songs couldn't be simpler or more direct -- usually arranged with just voice with guitar and/or piano, unlike the more fleshed out (and less interesting) studio albums -- and therein lies their easy power.

Dico is a woman of many secrets. She opens the set with "He Doesn't Know," about a past lover who likely has no clue as to the depths of her feeling for him. A few songs later, in "In Love," she's praising her current man, singing that her love for him is "almost more than I can stand" -- then she pauses and adds, "So I guess I'd better tell him." Over the course of the three nicely packaged CDs, she bobs and weaves in and out of these shadows, offering only glimpses of the restraints that make her so mysterious and thus so alluring. The sequence continues complementing itself: In "Some Other Day" she laments how little she and the rest of the world actually do to get off our butts and improve our lot (it's a nervous, regretful ode, with bombs exploding outside her apartment window, and never preachy), and in the next song, "Quarter to Forever," an old man is reminding her how fleeting life really is. Dico gives very little, really, and somehow instills a fierce hunger for more. That's either the oldest showbiz trick in the book or the mark of one truly compelling songwriter.

Her voice is strong and supple, if not unique. When I first reviewed these EPs, I declared her the best new option for fans of the late Eva Cassidy, saying she was evocative in a similar manner -- both forcing the powerful emotions of her songs and stepping aside to let them howl or whimper on their own. Like Cassidy, she could sing blues if she wanted to, but she instead lets those emotions bubble to the surface rather than belt them. The result is rarely short of stunning, an enveloping romantic rapture, like the most naked Joan Armatrading solos.

Here's a video diary from Dico during the recording of the third EP, "An Open Ending" ...

Since then, Dico (she's Tina Dickow back home) has recorded songs for a film soundtrack, and hopefully the string of European dates scheduled in the fall means she's supporting a new record.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on July 3, 2010 8:00 AM.

Top 20 songs in Chicago this week was the previous entry in this blog.

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