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Suzi Chunk: Girl from the Neck Down

Reviewed By: Malcolm Carter
Label: State Records
Format: LP

There was a time that many of us still remember vividly when checking your favourite social networking site wasn’t the first thing you did when you woke in the mornings. You’d reach for that tiny, tinny-sounding, transistor radio and try to tune in to one of the pirate radio stations, preferably Radio London or Caroline, to hear the latest wonderful sounds that defined the sixties. Then, while walking into town to check out the latest 45s in the sound booth of your local record store, you would glance at the posters plastered on walls as you passed: some new band called the Rolling Stones were going to play the local dance hall but we were still too young to get in there. We would have to make do with the 45s, and at six shillings and eight pence a go we could get three for exactly a quid. They were wonderful times for young music lovers; the thrill of hearing those sounds at the time they were made has never faded.

But not everyone of that age dismisses new music as rubbish. Although the music of our youth will always be the most appealing, this writer would much rather discover a new band or artist with something new to say than listen yet again to one of his beloved classics, but the most exciting new music does seem, especially over the last few years, to come with just the right amount of 60’s influences. The trick is to make something that has been done before sound familiar and fresh and that is not an easy task.

The list is almost endless of bands/artists who have tried this trick recently. Few have nailed it as well as those involved in the making of ‘Girl from the Neck Down’. Billed as the solo debut album from Cardiff based singer Suzi Chunk, this album is far from just a showcase for Suzi’s admittedly brilliant, soulful, vocals. The twelve songs were written by Glenn Prangnell, and he backs Suzi on this album along with other members of Prangnell’s beat combo Groovy Uncle. It appears that if anyone knows how to recreate the sounds and feel of the 60’s, and still make it sound new and exciting then Prangnell is the man.

Chunk was invited to add vocals to some tracks for the second Groovy Uncle album, but in the studio it became obvious fairly quickly to Prangnell that the songs he had written were tailor-made for Chunk and so the decision was made to make it a Suzi Chunk album.

Some of the songs will already be familiar to those who keep an ear open for 60’s-inspired songs; ‘For The Millionth Time’, ‘Look Back and Laugh’, ‘No Stone Unturned’ and ‘Got Any Mantras?’ have all been released before by other bands, the last two songs by Groovy Uncle. The other eight songs are all new.

You might have also heard the single ‘Look Back and Laugh’ on Stevie Van Zandt’s ‘Little Steven’s Underground Garage’ radio show. Listeners voted it as the fourth of the ‘Coolest Songs In The World 2012’, with Van Zandt listing this album also at number four in his top five albums of 2012. In many ways that tells you all you need to know.

Chunk sounds like any number of 60’s female singers. That’s not a criticism but a compliment. When the vocals and the arrangement of the songs recall the work of singers such as Sharon Tandy, it is a sure sign that the album has been played and produced with love and care.

While the more upbeat numbers are the ones that are attracting the most attention, just now there are some real slower gems hidden away on ‘Girl from the Neck Down’ that are simply irresistible, and show that Chunk and Prangnell have so much more than one tune and vision and are aiming higher than most of their contemporaries. ‘Big Screen’ which makes its appearance over half way into the album, is sublime. Lonely, sorrowful guitar licks compliment the sadness in Chunk’s melancholy vocals, brass kicks in at just the right moment and as an end- of- the- evening song it can’t be bettered. With it’s big, bold catchy chorus, it is a tearjerker that will have you smiling.

The album kicks off with ‘For the Millionth Time’, a stomping Northern Soul classic in the making. Everything about this song is perfect ; the guitars, the horns, the backing vocals and Chunk’s soulful vocals all gel brilliantly to produce an authentic slice of Motown inspired pop music. It will have you wishing you could still get into those Ben Sherman’s hanging at the back of the wardrobe.

As soon as the second cut, Chunk’s sultry take on Groovy Uncle’s ‘No Stone Unturned’, it is apparent that that opening stomper was just one facet of this band and singer. Showing more emotion in her vocals Chunk really shines on this song, with some of the most affective backing vocals heard in a long time lifting the haunting qualities of the song at just the right moment (again!) it defines the meaning of cool.

There’s an unexpected rock and roll vibe to ‘I Can’t Stand Mirrors (and I’m Scared of Heights)’ especially in the guitar lines and Chunk shows that even when belting out the lyrics she can still hold the tune and still show emotion.

‘Wish Away the Moon’, while still holding on to those sixties influences, is quite unlike any other song on the album. With her multi-tracked vocals Chunk shows yet another side to her talents on this heart-tugging ballad. Recalling the more folky side of 60’s music, it is again an unexpected surprise and one that keeps this album so appealing.

While the samba-influenced ‘Probably Normal’ throws another unexpected turn on the album, it is such a catchy piece of work that even sandwiched between songs that have no similarity at all to each other still works brilliantly.

The title track is another slice of catchy 60’s pop of the kind that was forever spilling out of those transistors way back then, the difference being that Chunk is without a doubt a more accomplished singer than many of those we admired all those decades ago.

There is the freakbeat of ‘Got Any Mantras?’, the almost snotty attitude expressed in the r & b infused ‘Look Back And Laugh’, the jazzy ‘I Can’t Stop ihe Rain’ and another soulful ballad in ‘It’s Not Your Heartbreak’ where the use of background vocals yet again adds to the authenticity and mood of the song. If it wasn’t for Chunk’s excellent vocals, the guitar player would steal the show on this latter track.

The album closes with ‘Eyes on the Prize’, another heartbreaker. Like all of the songs on this album, it is a perfect pop song. Chunk’s soaring vocal performance, those background vocals (I can’t recall another album where the backing vocals have made such an impression), that guitar again and a perfectly crafted and produced song all make for a fitting end to a brilliant collection of songs.

The coupling of Suzi Chunk’s vocals with the songwriting of Glenn Prangnell and the playing of Groovy Uncle is a marriage made in heaven. If ‘Girl from the Neck Down’ had been in these hands before the end of 2012, then it would have been listed in another best of the year list for sure. ‘Big Screen’ is going to be playing in my head for the rest of this year and that is a fact.


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