Album: Joker's Daughter, The Last Laugh, (Double six records)
Joker's wild: it's folk music, but not as we know it
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Just as it was starting to look as if Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton was losing his production Midas touch (so-so efforts from The Black Keys and Beck where once there were the unmistakable highs of Gorillaz, The Grey Album and Gnarls Barkley), along comes this unexpected treasure of a collaboration.
Joker's Daughter is the current pseudonym of young Greek-Cypriot Londoner Helena Costas, a self-taught folkie who began sending demos to Burton when he was in London working with Damon Albarn.
Four years later, The Last Laugh is the result, and while cross-genre collaborations can be a hit and miss affair (see Johnny Cash Remixed, below), this one works splendidly with Costas' tendency towards fey offset by Burton's tasteful electronic additions. The sound is completed by the pristine string arrangements of Daniele Luppi, but while it is the incredible production you will notice first, the whole would mean nothing if Costas' material wasn't worthy.
Where to begin listing the influences at work here: there's The Incredible String Band, Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake, for sure, but there are also more modern cadences in Costas' voice, notably Nina Persson of The Cardigans, that lend tracks such as "Lucid" a pop edge that Danger Mouse does nothing to subdue with his offbeat but upbeat backing.
And while there are plenty of lyrical references to standard folk fare – angels, wizards, fairy tales and castles are all present and correct – there are also more whimsical moments, not least in the brilliantly named "Under the Influence of Jaffa Cakes", with its "cocoa, jam and the sponge they dig" middle-eight.
By the album's midway point, Costas and Burton have so much goodwill in the bank that you will even forgive them the cod-reggae electronica of "Jelly Belly", a mere blip on the way back to the Technicolor folk-pop sound the record invents and then quietly settles on.
If there's a complaint, it's only that without DM's involvement, Costas might well have been just another well-meaning freak-folkie. Never mind, the bar for what modern folk music can sound like has now been raised higher than at any time since Bob's "Judas" moment.