May 21, 2024

Celeste – ‘Not Your Muse’ – confirmation of the breadth of a major vocal talent

POLYDOR RECORDS      29th Jan, 2021

It’s been a strange year for Celeste. In some ways her skywards trajectory has been slowed by COVID-19, in other ways she has flourished despite it all. Gathering plenty of attention before gig restrictions, she was set to tour with Michael Kiwanuka in March but the tour was cancelled due to Kiwanuka getting laryngitis. Then COVID put paid to the rest. Despite that, there have been singles and an EP, and a couple of songs placed in high profile media spots. ‘Somebody Stop This Flame’ was selected as the theme to Sky Sports’ Premiere League – it is a speedy and fun slab of soul where Celeste’s voice opens into a belter. ‘A Little Love’ got into everyone’s home via the John Lewis TV ad. A very classic 50s song, delivered in a little vulnerable voice, it is the sort of thing Peggy Lee would have done.

Enjoy this album now. It won’t be long till Cleeste is ubiquitous and you’ll tire of hearing these songs everywhere, in shops, clubs, bars (though you won’t care, because just getting out will be soooo good!). There are all the flavours of classic soul and jazz in her voice and comparisons with Sarah Vaughn, Peggy Lee and Amy Winehouse are justified. Allied to an ability to deliver anywhere between a hushed, nearly cracking quiet and diva belting level, there can’t be anyone who won’t find something to love.

The dreamy smoky opener, ‘Ideal Woman’ sets the scene, ‘Tonight Tonight’ has jazzy drums, hinting at urban beats, along with a sweeping, swinging chorus to go with the husky voice. ‘Strange’ is a glacially slow unpicking of emotional change has a lovely Billy Holliday twist in the chorus vocals and was a single. ‘Tell Me Something’ is another big, filmic pop belter and contrasts with the title tune, where a nice light accompaniment allows Celeste to use the lighter aspects of her voice and the lovely catch to it. ‘A Kiss’ is a standout track, crooned with a smoky voice on a catchy simple melody. ‘Beloved’ is playful and harks back to jazz / standards albums on Capitol Records in the 50s. The biggest hitter is ‘Love Is Back’; a close, expressive and confiding voice alternates with full power vocal flight, driven on punchy horn punctuation. It’s quite Amy Winehouse and less distinctive than other tracks.

It does seem that there is a tricky line to walk between mass pop appeal and the things that make Celeste’s voice her own. This reviewer believes that the more she stays herself, the firmer she will build her reputation and career. That is demonstrated on the closer, ‘Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos’, where classic styling and simple guitar backing creates a new jazz standard. This album just confirms the promise of the singles; Celeste is a major vocal talent and whether she sticks with her own material or interprets other songs, she will be a fixture in the music landscape for a long time. Personally, I hope she sticks with the jazzy focus.

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