Lunas reveal new layers of wonder – and an ABBA cover – on their third.
Luna Rossa’s third release takes its title from the Latin for Deadly Nightshade, aka Belladonna. The plant has been used as a medicine, a poison, and as the means for witches to transform themselves into flying beings. It’s the perfect metaphor for an album that explores transformation, healing and pain, and humans’ complex relationship with the natural world. Indeed, just when it seemed Panic Room’s Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards’s side project couldn’t garner any more plaudits, they drop Atropa. It is a wonder and the finest Luna Rossa record to date.
If their last album Secrets And Lies explored the complexities of human relationships, especially the darkness of depression and betrayal, Atropa is no less moody. This time, however, the Lunas add a greater dose of hope and tenderness. Atropa begins in mystery and fractures: the opener Midnight features Clannad-like harmonies and harp from long-time collaborator Sarah Dean, and builds into a disconcerting longing for the night.
Yet, if Helder and co are no less afraid of the dark than on previous offerings – songs like Deadly Nightshade speak of poison and shadow – their overall tone is almost celebratory. The use of Panics’ stickmeister Gavin John Griffiths brings rhythmic crispness to tracks like Special One. Edwards’ chilled piano, Griffiths’ drums and Helder’s joyous voice join together to make a song for summer days and chilling out.
The use of a grittier and heavier effects – including Helder’s percussive use of acoustic guitar on Red Moon – ensures that Atropa never feels one-paced or samey. No one has ever doubted Helder’s luminous vocals, but on Red Moon the percussive interplay brings out new dimensions. Invisible is groovy and smooth without being bland and Edwards sits back on Griffiths’ beat with the understanding that only years of playing together can bring.
Because this is the Lunas there are surprises, not least in the covers department. The take on Dave Stewart/Barbara Gaskin classic Make Me Promises is groovy and tender, but we’re not sure anyone is prepared for the Lunas’ version of ABBA’s Winner Takes It All. Helder has had a life-long love of ABBA, and it shows: the Lunas’ version is simple, melancholic and shattering. The vocal interplay between Helder and Dean is bittersweet and the arrangement could stop time.
Atropa, then, is a joy. On Family Tree – a paean to family relationships – Helder sings ‘you are my family tree’. As she does so, it feels like she’s singing just for you. This is no mere side project. This is a family all prog fans should wish to be part of.
BITTER-SWEET VOCALS AND ARRANGEMENTS THAT COULD STOP TIME.