A long leather trench coat with oversized big gothic-like boots cover a frail youngster whom timid smile comes shimmering from underneath her oversized furry hood. When her glazing eyes search for the light her hood is throw backwards only to reveal an even more intriguing personality.
This Sharon Kovacs, the vocalist who is currently taken Europe by storm with her mesmerizing voice and ditto music balancing on the fine line between fine dark art and avant garde. It's taunting and hypnotizing beautiful, as is her radiating personality. Kovacs' "Shades of Black" is only just the beginning.
The dark cover artwork lines up just perfectly with Kovacs' musical intentions. Her mesmerizing dark toned music brings together the best from art noire and disgruntled soundtracks from the gritty 50's. Not only does her music warp you back to those dark theatres soaked in the fragrance of bourbon, smoke and cigars, it also has that genuine feel of vinyl with its nostalgic scratches and scuffmarks. Much like her Dutch musical 'twin' Lilian Hak, Kovacs is on a recon mission to explore music in its widest variety, injecting modern day jazz and pop with the charismatic overhaul from those darker times. In her European hit single "Diggin'" Kovacs sums up how wide and varied her vocal influences are: "From Nina to Ella, Ella to Bassey, Bassey to Eta" also simultaneously hinting the musical shockwave that's going to hit you.
Because this is not where it ends folks!
Kovacs combined the rich vocalic toning of these here for mentioned icons with her unique passion for modern soul and jazz, making Amy Winehouse's music look rather pale. Another name I wanted to drop if only for her stubborn approach to music and the bewitching and ever so present shadows casted over "Shades of Black". But instead of swinging towards old Motown and soul, this 25 year old managed to pen down an album full of pure art. Compact and appealing, captivating and taunting.
"50 Shades of Black" opens this 12-song expedition that leads us through a dark sonic landscape. An almost romantic velvet melody paves the way for a lashing lyric. The unlikely contrast is the perfect sonic environment for Kovacs' voice. Her voice touches the mesmerizing side of Portishead's Beth Gibbons occasionally but it is above all Sharon Kovacs who speaks to us. "My Love" is a much more dynamic track that hits you with a Goldfinger-ish 007 appeal. The music is richly orchestrated and a little pompous, without blasting your senses. In the same range Kovacs composed "When the Lady's Hurt" with its damp yet danceable motion.
From a completely different planet comes the somewhat triphop new wave blended "Night of the Nights" with its epical undertone and hauling backing vocals. Subtle arrangements of strings, Theremin and percussion interaction make it crawl forward before it pumps up to great magnitude. Absolute highlight is the Ennio Morricone like "My Love" with its Shirley Bassey vocal slingshots and the warm and fuzzy chorus. Whammy guitars echoing as if Hank Marvin's The Shadows are responsible for a revival of their echomatic Meazzi tapes and magnetic Benson discs. It's opposing in every way with that other magnificent heart touching moment, the wonderful and timidly arranged "Sweet Symphony". Sharon Kovacs reveals a completely different side to her (hoarse) vocal range on this song carried by piano and acoustic guitar paving the way for an unmatched highlight. It's overwhelming in its simplicity without lacking the dramatic overhaul Kovacs inflicts into her lyrics which are scarred by life.
The soul comes swinging when Sharon duets with a spitting trumpet in "Wolf in Cheap Clothes". The dynamics of the songs are fading in the always-lingering dark shadow casted over the album. The density of the atmosphere is exciting as it is thrilling.
Outstanding is "Song for Joel" which is rather lush and more rock rooted than any of the other tracks, making it a somewhat odd ending to this remarkable debut release.
Kovacs managed to shift along with the time evolving around female vocalists, harvesting the best of both (read: all) worlds. The result is simply jaw dropping and beautiful, might be counted to the best debut albums of the last couple of years.
The rich arrangements and orchestrations are in fine line with Kovacs' captivating vocal performance which is honest and heart touching. All songs breathe a genuine musical perfection and devotion that radiates from her performance. This is an album of a weathered soul who seeks an outlet for silent smothered screams. Fragile as it is powerful, dynamic as it is passive, but above all: captivating. Kovacs is one of those one off personalities that redefines the lines of music in general.
Review of Shades of Black by Edwin van Hoof.