19–20 May 2016
Tin Angel are thrilled to be releasing Trace, the legendary Little Annie’s first album since her 2013 collaboration with Baby Dee (State Of Grace) and the first under her name alone since 2007’s Songs from the Coalmine Canary.
Over half of Trace was written and recorded in Toronto with jazz maestro Ryan Driver and a crack team of session players; three collaborations feature Brooklyn electronica trio Opal/ Onyx, and one calls on Annie’s long-standing writing/performing partner Paul Wallfisch. “I thought I was going to reinvent jazz on this record, but it’s so far off that concept!” says Annie. “You keep trying to figure what you are, because the world asks you what you are, and all I know I’m a torch singer, which is all about giving parts of yourself away.”
Little Annie has been giving a lot of herself away in recent years. In 2013, Existencil Press published her book of prose, Sing Don't Cry / I Remember Mexico, while in the same year, her extraordinary memoir You Can’t Sing The Blues While Drinking Milk was published by Tin Angel. The book included forewords by a glittering cast of Annie acolytes including Lydia Lunch, David Tibet (Current 93) and Antony Hegarty - who summed her up deliciously as, “Annie, from Yonkers, Little Annie Anxiety….A New York baby and a London legend, survivor, impoverished icon…She of dripping truth, curling lip and glistening black eye.”
Annie Anxiety was a name she used back in the day, when she lived in the UK in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and worked closely with punk anarchists Crass before becoming the house chanteuse for Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound label, fusing poetry with tough rhythms, before a raft of guest appearances (The Wolfgang Press, Current 93, Coil, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Bim Sherman) and later, the dark-carnival cabaret of her records with Wallfisch and the gentler piano/strings template for the Antony-produced …Coalmine Canary and the similarly exquisite State Of Grace.
Trace managed to entwine all these strands of Annie DNA into one remarkably cohesive record - ably achieved by the Canadian session’s producer/engineer Jean Martin, who oversaw the album mastering. With Ryan Driver’s improvising skills at the fore, Annie swings through the jaunty, Brechtian ‘My Old Man Trouble’, the sad luminescence of ‘Nought Marie’ and the sumptuous swing of ‘Break It You Buy It’. Ryan was good for me,” she recalls. “He took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to be pretty, as I do tend to slip into growling.” The Opal Onyx-steered eerie electronica of ‘She Has A Way’ and the dubby echoes of ‘Bitching Song’ are also highlight, alongside ‘Dear John’, which Wallisch cast in smoky, simmering and subterranean hues.
Rising above it all is Annie’s distinctive and charismatic torch-singing voice, whose uncanny timbre, phrasing and timing is unparalleled in modern music; in this way, Trace is a jazz record, and Annie in touch with jazz as much as torch, like a post-modern Billie Holiday. It’s no surprise that she has embraced the jazz standard ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ for Trace, once sung by Billie (and Ella, Chet and Dinah, among others), which she manages to make her own; likewise the album’s second cover, the similarly smouldering ‘India Song’, which was originally sung by French actress Jeanne Moreau in the (1975) film of the same name.
Annie – a very accomplished painter to boot – provides the album cover, all roses and inspired, chaotic colour, completed after she left beloved New York City for the sunnier climes of Miami. “I’m shocked that I’m here, but I fell in love with the place, it’s been like a facelift for the soul,” she declares, which ably speaks for the music within. “I think the painting’s beautiful but brash,” she declares. “Roses are soft, but sturdy. It’s like realising your vulnerability and strength at the same point.”
Ryan Driver is a singer, songwriter, and improvising musician based in Toronto. Since 1999 he has also led The Ryan Driver Quartet / Quintet / Sextet, playing monthly performances in Toronto. Favouring the ballads of the American Jazz Era, as well as most recently those of composer and songwriter Stephen Parkinson, Ryan plays piano and sings in this group featuring some of Toronto's most accomplished and most experimental musicians (Martin Arnold, Brodie West, Rob Clutton, Nick Fraser, and Michael Davidson). Ryan has toured internationally with notable performances at the Angelica Festival of New Music in Bologna, Italy; Heartland Festival in Vevey, Switzerland; Canadian Blast at Trafalgar Square and the Barbican in London, England; Bergenfest in Bergen, Norway; Tanned Tin Festival in Castellon, Spain; and Sound Symposium in St. John's, Newfoundland. Ryan's recorded output is available mainly through Rat-drifting, Barnyard Records, Fire Records, and Tin Angel Records.