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Bic Runga: Darkness All Around Us

New Zealand singer-songwriter Bic Runga must have approached her fourth album Belle with some trepidation. Right from her award-winning debut album Drive over a decade ago, she had been hailed by cynical critics and the mainstream media, as well as being embraced by the country.

At an impossibly early age -- in her mid 20s -- she was touring with heritage artists like Dave Dobbyn and Tim Finn, many years here senior, and there seemed to be an audience waiting to spread out the blanket in the vineyard and listen to her.

All she had to do was keep delivering her melodic, literate and oftn deliciously understated songs and she could be cruising to premature middle-age.

But Runga was first and foremost a songwriter and so after her third album Birds, a darker and more intropsective outing, she pushed herself into interesting musical collaborations (most notably playing drums and singing with former Mint Chick Kody Neilson).

So on Belle we find interesting musical settings (parhaps in part tahnks to producer Neilson) and Runga happy to share co-writing credits.

It makes for an album which balances the light and dark, the poppy (the openers Tiny Little Piece of My Heart and Hello Hello) to the thoughtfully mellow (Good Love).

She can sing something as simple and as free of guile and cynicism as Everything is Beautiful and New but place it alongside This Girl's Prepared For War ("and as for love, who knows what it's god for?".

With Belle -- the airy title track in French -- Runga has confirmed her position as a singer-songwriter preapred to move forward and sideways. Some of these songs might not make to those vineyard audiences, but something else is going on here, and in her answers to the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire there are some interesting clues to her influences.

The first piece of music which really affected you was . . .

Something's Gotten Hold of my Heart by Gene Pitney

Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .

Karen Carpenter and Barbra Streisand

Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana, Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?

Lennon, Ramones, Madonna, mm, it's a tough one, but I might actually say Jay Z.

If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . .

I'd probably make clothes!

The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .

Cola Elixer by my new band with Kody Nielson, Opposom

I Love to Love by Bjork when she was a little kid

Love by John Lennon

Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home?

A 1969 original vox amplifier! And a 1966 Custom Gold Jaguar. Phoar!

51G1V8HGJAL._SL500_AA300_The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .

Faithful by Marianne Faithful

If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . . (And you would play?)

Yoko Ono

The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .

I am Cuba, 
Sympathy for The Devil
 and Hearts of Darkness

The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)

A Nina Simone Best of.

One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you would be . . .

Sway is still paying the bills I suppose. It's become it's own thing.

The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .

Starry Night by Van Gogh

You are allowed just one tattoo, and it is of . . .

A cigarette coming out of my mouth

413wMzHMmxL._SL500_AA300_David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?

I'd go to an island somewhere warm. I'd eat homegrown vegetables and home school my son.

And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best album ever?”

Because I've finally learned how to collaborate and it's very exciting!

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