BLUE ON BLUE reunites her with producer Howe Gelb (Giant Sand) and exhibits the same wit and charm of her acclaimed debut. Seamless and beautiful, with its memorable songs and spacious, unexpected arrangements, highlights her intimate vocals and intelligent lyrics that at first listen seem dreamy and gentle but hold hidden barbs and pain. From the opening song, “Keep Dancing,” where she sings “The man said you were dancing with no shoes on amid the broken glass and dog sh*t and cigarette ends,” you know you’re in for no ordinary ride. Or “Nothing”, a strange, dark, childhood memory with the lines, “Now I’m running for the train/Same train everyone is running for/ Before there’s nothing to take you where you want to go/Maybe I’ll find you there/ Maybe I’ll find nothing.”
“Not In Love” sounds like a lost Roy Orbison song; “Sweet California” is a bittersweet love song to her adopted state; and “The Thing They Don’t Tell You About Girls” finds her balanced on a roof, “Just to hear my heart still beat.”
Her unforgettable songs, delicate but sensual and bold, have earned unanimous praise and rave reviews, with comparisons to a young Marianne Faithfull, a punk Piaf, and a female Leonard Cohen — as well as a prime slot in the 2018 Ethan Hawke/ Jesse Peretz movie Juliet, Naked, and shout-outs from fellow musicians including Rosanne Cash, Brian Wilson and Elvis Costello.
If her first album seemed to appear of nowhere, in a way it did. For three and a half decades, before coming out as a singer-songwriter, Sylvie — born in London and based in California — had been an acclaimed rock writer, and the author of books including her celebrated biographies of Serge Gainsbourg, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. It was after touring around the world for more than a year behind I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (her 2012 book which now has over 25 translations), singing his songs and accompanying herself on a ukulele, that Sylvie did the near-impossible and crossed over into writing and recording her own songs, with the encouragement and accompaniment of Gelb.
The album ends with a duet, “1000 Years Before I Met You” — Sylvie and Gelb toughing it out like a countrified Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, with Sylvie singing, “Well go on, put your clothes on and walk right out the door/Don’t want to see you when the sun creeps through the blind/ If you’re thinking I’ll come running and beg you back for more/Then baby you’ve been drinking more than I.”
As one writer noted, “These are songs that persuade us to curl up with them, then bite when we’re warm and cozy.”
The band on BLUE ON BLUE consists of Gelb, Thoger Lund, Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez from Tucson, plus Australian Matt Wilkinson and Jim White (Wrong-eyed Jesus) from Athens, Georgia. Sylvie plays ukulele — an instrument she first started playing in 2005.
“I’d always thought of the uke as a toy”, she says, “a little handful of happiness. But not any more. From the moment I picked it up, I fell in love. A ukulele has a sad, fractured sweetness, like a broken harp. And a modesty. It doesn’t try to impress you, it almost apologizes for being there.” Abandoning her piano and guitar, her songs “came through this tiny instrument with all their heartbreak and truth intact.”