RECOMMENDED RECORD: CHRISTINE WHITE AND THE RAVEN PROJECT (2022): Songs given wings and strings

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Raven (Paddy Free remix)
RECOMMENDED RECORD: CHRISTINE WHITE AND THE RAVEN PROJECT (2022): Songs given wings and strings

From time to time Elsewhere will single out a recent release we recommend on vinyl, like this album released for the first time on vinyl.

It has been some time coming (the album was released on bandcamp in November 2022) but now appears on vinyl with an insert gatefold of lyrics and recording information -- and is available through Christine White's website here.

We reprint our original 2022 review below. 

Check out Elsewhere's other Recommended Record picks . . .

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Three decades ago singer-songwriter Christine White was a fixture in cafes and at gay, lesbian and folk festivals. With her three-piece band she could be a fiery electric guitarist, there were radio appearances . . . then she seemed to disappear.

In fact, the woman who grew up singing in Baptist and school choirs, had pulled large crowds to Auckland's famous Java Jive for her edgy folk-rock and whose group won a Gluepot Battle of the Bands, had moved into music teaching and writing for children's theatre productions (works by Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley and Lynley Dodd).

And exploring wider horizons by enrolling in Victoria University's Sonic Arts Composition course.

Instead of electric guitar and traditional song structure she began deploying a variety of noise-making objects, cut-up methods and made her own instruments, notably “The Workbench” which supported a bunch of unusual items on a Black and Decker workbench.

Her re-emergence with the 2018 album When The Things That Heal Us Hurt Us And The Things That Hurt Us Heal Us was unexpected but welcome as she dealt with themes of loss and emotional fragility. And a song titled Molybdenum, after the essential mineral which breaks down toxins.

It appeared to be her “Waitsean reinvention” – like Tom Waits putting his barfly past behind him with 1983's Swordfishtrombones – and her reference points, impelled by her expressive voice, were as much art music as folk or pop-rock.

White found a rewarding place between her past and present concerns through sonic experimentalism, electronica and alarmingly beautiful songs.

In retrospect that album was the platform for the six-song The Raven Project with composer/collaborator John Psathas (on the romantic ballad Taken and Starless River), musicians from the Auckland Philharmonia and Wellington Vector Orchestra, Iranian instruments, percussion recorded in Greece, Little Bushman guitarist Joe Callwood and one track remixed by electronica pioneer Paddy Free of Pitch Back and Moana's Tribe.
There's also a version of one song in Farsi, a language she learned during lockdown.

The Raven Project appears with tie-in videos and a short book of haiku-style poems in English and Farsi.

The ambitious, dramatic opener Raven is driven by funky bass and over six and a half minutes morphs from pop ballad with cinematic strings through an electronica breakdown then heads off to dancefloor buoyed up by orchestration.

It is revisited as the ethereal Kalaagh, the nine minute Farsi version (with kamancheh – bowed Iranian lute – played by Auckland-based Rasoul Abbasi) and in Free's dub-influenced instrumental remix.

“The songs on Side B were built around the question, 'What new material can be made from these beautiful recordings?',” says White. “ 'What new perspectives can be given to the same subject matter?' ”

That subject may be as elusive anything by Kate Bush or Bjork, but the metaphor of birds, flight, freedom and spirituality (notably on the gloriously cascading, urgent and exotic Starless Rivers) is the binding thread in alluring songs with lush string arrangements.

Given this unique re-emergence, The Raven Project might well be titled The Phoenix Project.

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The Raven Project is available at bandcamp here and on limited edition vinyl through her website

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