With his ingenious choice of samples and ambient arrangements, experimental composer and pianist Joe Frawley has always demonstrated the ability to haunt the listener even if the subject matter can be quite innocent. So when he entitles his new project with Michelle Cross as ‘Dolls Come To Life’, teeth could be set chattering well before the “Play” button is pressed. Meanwhile, Chicago native Cross has established her own foothold as a respected pianist/composer and this partnership frequently sounds inspired.
The stark piano keys of ‘Scenes From The Doll Hospital’ may get proceedings off to slightly creepy footing but ‘Dolls Come To Life – Part 1’ turns events into a completely different direction. Cross’s Kate Bush-style murmuring is a comforting presence on a surprisingly accessible song which doffs its cap to the genre of musicals. ‘Part 2’ is more typical of Frawley’s output with lots of sonic manipulation; here Cross appears to be singing from every corner of the room. Keeping the variety and creativity flowing, fully formed songs like ‘Marionette’ and ‘Lullaby For Girls Without A Grandmother’ rub shoulders with shape-shifting modern classical pieces such as ‘March Of The Dolls’ and ‘Porcelain’. Cross even gives Tori Amos a run for her money with the hand-wringing trauma of ‘No More Dollies’ and the duo also handle a flamboyant and potentially disastrous version of ‘My Favourite Things’ with some aplomb.
Overall, this is a very successful collaboration with both Cross and Frawley complimenting each others’ talents rather than competing against each other. They also stick close to the doll concept; managing to produce a work which is coherent, inventive and often delightfully melodic.
Kate Bush, Dead Can Dance, Tori Amos