erasing clouds

Monica Queen, Return of the Sacred Heart

reviewed by anna battista

Her first solo album, Ten Sorrowful Mysteries (Creeping Bent, 2002), won her comparisons to Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, Mary Margaret O'Hara and Neil Young. Monica Queen, ex-voice of indie band Thrum and probably best known as the guest vocalist on Belle & Sebastian’s “Lazy Line Painter Jane”, claimed then that it was a big responsibility to be compared to such singers, but, as time passed, she proved she can definitely stand up well to these comparisons.

Queen’s new album, Return of the Sacred Heart (Vertical Records), co-written with and produced by ex-Thrum guitarist and Queen collaborator Johnny Smillie, extends the main religious theme of her first solo album and gives Queen’s vocal skills a new dimension. The album opens with the soulful “Fly Away”, which features Jim White (who asked Queen and Smillie to work with him on a track and has returned the favour on this song; Queen also supported White on his latest UK tour); the second track, “The Passion” is a hieratical experience with an ethereal background chorus that gives you the impression you’re listening to the song in a chapel; the title track is simply touching and heartbreaking while “Beautiful Song” is a very aptly titled track. Towards the end of the album, there are two of the best songs Queen has ever recorded, the melancholic and nostalgic “Déjà Vu” in which Queen gives her voice previously unachieved nuances, and the lulling “Holiest Night”.

Throughout the album the musical arrangements are sparse, most songs feature indeed an acoustic guitar, giving in this way more space to Queen’s angelic voice, a mixture of grace, fragility and purity.

Return of the Sacred Heart lifts Queen’s art to a purer and more spiritual level and reconfirms her as one of the best female singer/songwriters around.

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