Singer hopes U.S. au­di­ence will al­low her a fresh start

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Gre­gory Katz

LON­DON — In terms of chrono­log­i­cal age, Char­lotte Church — at just 27 — is prob­a­bly too young for a come­back tour and al­bum. But launch­ing a sec­ond act can be tough when you charmed the world at 12.

As a young girl, she sold many mil­lions of records and per­formed live for a pres­i­dent and a pope be­fore be­ing laid low by a no-win con­fronta­tion with Bri­tain’s tabloid press and the re­lease of what even she ad­mits was some medi­ocre pop ma­te­rial and a not-so-great re­al­ity TV show.

Now she’s emerged from her base­ment stu­dio in Wales with a wealth of new ma­te­rial she’s re­leas­ing in the United States on CD and show­cas­ing at live per­for­mances at the South by South­west mu­sic fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas, and in sev­eral other cities, in­clud­ing New York and Los An­ge­les.

“I’ve been wait­ing a long time to come back to the States,” said Church, who re­leased the al­bum, One & Two, on Tues­day. Taken from two pre­vi­ously re­leased EPs in Europe, it’s the first of new ma­te­rial from the singer in the U.S. for a decade, in part be­cause she hasn’t had full con­fi­dence in her ma­te­rial.

Church, bur­dened per­haps by the Voice of an An­gel ti­tle of her first smash al­bum, sees Amer­ica as of­fer­ing a fresh start. She be­lieves her rep­u­ta­tion in Bri­tain has been tar­nished by tabloids that cov­ered (and ex­ag­ger­ated) her ev­ery grow­ing pain as she moved from cheru­bic youth into rough ado­les­cence and more tran­quil adult­hood, in­clud­ing last year’s phone hack­ing scan­dal. The singer re­ceived a $950,000 set­tle­ment from Ru­pert Mur­doch’s News Corp. af­ter his re­porters were found to have been hack­ing into her voice­mails and those of other pub­lic fig­ures.

“I’m in­trigued to see how peo­ple will take it. In the U.S., I’m known pre­dom­i­nantly as a singer; in the U.K., I’ve been seen as a car­i­ca­ture of my­self for such a long time, so it’s been dif­fi­cult for me to find the cred­i­bil­ity as a mu­si­cian that I so crave.”

Her new ma­te­rial is dif­fi­cult to de­scribe. Church has moved away from straight-ahead com­mer­cial pop, which didn’t serve her par­tic­u­larly well, into a less-struc­tured arena. There are traces of Björk and oth­ers in her phras­ing and the in­stru­men­ta­tion varies from song to song; the pu­rity of her so­prano voice pro­vides the uni­fy­ing fac­tor.

“I think the new ma­te­rial is fan­tas­tic,” said Neil McCormick, mu­sic critic at the Daily Tele­graph. “She’s fi­nally found a way to use her clas­si­cal ap­ti­tude in an at­mo­spheric pop mu­sic con­text. The voice really works here.”

The new songs were cooked up by Church and band­mates Jamie Nea­som and Jonathan Pow­ell — her boyfriend — of­ten as part of four-day marathons in­volv­ing friends and mu­si­cians from the greater Cardiff area.

“We started do­ing house writ­ing ses­sions,” she said. “We in­vite great song­writ­ers from around the area and do ses­sions, and then we’ll all share at the end and see ev­ery­one’s dif­fer­ent styles and make com­ments … It’s a great cre­ative thing to be in­volved with.”

As a kid, with the world at her feet, Church sailed through con­certs with breezy con­fi­dence. Now she needs some quiet time, even just half an hour, to col­lect her­self be­fore each show.

“When I was really young I was to­tally fear­less,” she said. “As I’ve got­ten older I’m more scared, it mat­ters more. It just means the world to me now.”

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