When two talented pianists/composers work together, there’s a potential threat of egos taking control. Thankfully this wasn’t the case with Michelle Cross and Joe Frawley’s collaboration as Dolls Come To Life, with the former proving to be an excellent foil for Frawley as his always experimental approach began to place more emphasis on song-based material. Next up is another concept album called ‘The Groundskeeper’s Daughter’.
‘First Memory’ encapsulates Frawley’s solo output; distinguished by melancholic piano melodies, nature samples and female murmurings. For ‘The Nightingale And The Rose’, however, Cross is pushed to the forefront with the minimum of backing. Thereafter the duo push themselves into fascinating and varied directions. Frawley introduces sonic trickery on ‘Outside’, making the backgrounds shift and shimmer to add credence to the ghostly tale whilst ‘Wake Up, Wake Up’ and ‘The Language Of Flowers’ make clever use of vocal layering and “ambient guitar”. The production is also laden with echo which serves to add further chills to the already haunting material. Despite that the arrangements are actually fairly delicate, never threatening to oppress the listener.
Cross earned comparisons with Tori Amos on the first Dolls Come To Life album and she deserves them again on ‘The Violet Hour’; a rare (and not unwelcome) concession by the duo to record a mainstream song. Furthermore, the last official track is a lovely version of the Hoagy Carmichael standard ‘Stardust’. Here, the lyrics of “Beside the garden wall, when stars are bright, I am in your arms. The nightingale tells her fairytales of paradise where roses grew.” are perfectly chosen given the subject matter of the record.
Frawley and Cross make music which is designed for a dreamlike state, so material based on ghosts in gardens and half-formed memories fit this approach like a glove. Granted, there are a few times when the sounds blur so much that it’s hard to keep focus on the melodic themes but otherwise this songwriting partnership continues to bear fruit.
Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Dead Can Dance