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The Coppertone – Hidden Dreams

on December 17, 2010, 8:00am

The Coppertone is a reinvention of young Canadian singer-songwriter, Amanda Zelina; a kind of back to roots trip along a road to Damascus of the Blues. The name shelters the aspirations of the artist to feel the raw emotion and experience of blues music. Her new direction now has a voice in the form of a new record, Hidden Dreams. This is quite a departure from the singer’s earlier album, Love Me Till I’m Me Again, which was in itself a very accomplished offering yet softer, much more polished and possibly a bit less individual for it. The first record has country overtones, shot through with 60’s R&B and a hint of the blues mixed with quirky songstress moments that recall Regina Spektor. It appears to chronicle a doomed love affair, seeming almost to exorcise it.

Hidden Dreams by contrast is firmly rooted in blues rock. It’s a collection of nine generally short songs that retain the rawness of unpolished gems, aided by a warts and all approach to recording straight to two-inch tape. The Coppertone sounds like a band, but is mostly a collaboration between Zelena and drummer Nick Skalkos of the band, Spirit, with the singer providing the songs and most of the music. Here rock carries equal weight to the blues. In her publicity pics, Amanda Zelina comes across like she was born in a biker jacket and as well as looking good in leather, the singer brings a rawness and honesty to her work that transcends the rock chick persona. Her personal reworking of the blues is as refreshing as it is different in this world of production line divas. It also shows an inner confidence to follow her instincts.

The album begins with “Heroine”, a mantra-like song with Zelina’s strong, clear, impassioned vocals echoing over insistent drums and an angular rhythmic guitar riff. The impact of the song is enhanced by the stark recording quality. You picture a cavernous empty room with just two people, some instruments, and the blues for company. “Nighttime Wishes” (with two t’s) which follows it has shades of The White Stripes in its primal glory, all flailing drums and raw-toned, fuzzy slide guitar. Sadly the song hangs around for less than a minute and a half all told.

The country blues stroll of “One Of A Kind” marks a change of tempo and intensity but still has some nice touches lyrically – ‘There’s two of us in this old world, but together we’re one of a kind’ – and musically, in the bottleneck guitar run down at the end. Amanda Zelina then shows another dimension to her vocal range on “Satisfied Mind”, a standout piece that is much more filled out than the preceding songs. Wailing strings, fuzzy guitar and upfront drums provide the backcloth for Zelina’s spacey, distended singing in which she swoops and glides through the higher register. Think Chrissie Hynde trading lines with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons.

The atmospheric title track is similarly a highly charged affair, though by contrast a sparse builder. The sonorous backbeat over which Zelina voices aching despair is ever present, adding drama and presence. Zelina contributes a lyrical guitar break two-thirds through and the song builds with great restraint until the dying away with a sorrowful voice over, echoing the song title. The four remaining tracks show more variety of delivery and style within a very particular blues rock framework.

“7 Of Spades” is built on a down and dirty, metal-like riff that Amanda Zelina enlivens with slide effects after it’s begun to outstay its welcome. The percussion is similarly heavy and insistent throughout and Zelina plays the wounded woman, spitting out the words with distortion that you imagine is more to do with the age of the microphone and mixer than your typical studio effect. Naturally because of the subject matter and bluesy style, much of the record has a world weary tone but “Mile Type Of Love” gives a different take on this. This is classic territory, country with soul, and a song that Sheryl Crow might have wished she’d written, lamenting love set free, hopeful of a return yet resigned to that impossibility.

“Run” sees Zelina back in mantra mode and the repetitive riff seems to nod in the direction of Zelina’s love of John Lee Hooker’s music. Yet the song also fits into a more contemporary blues rock idiom; say that of The Duke Spirit. To extend this comparison, vocally Zelina has a lot in common with Leila Moss here and you wonder quite how great they would sound on a duet. The album closes with a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin On My Mind”, shortened to just “Ramblin” here. A familiar 12-bar is refreshed with Zelina’s singing slide guitar while the distortion on her vocal gives the song a period feel.

There is no doubt that Amanda Zelina is a fascinating new talent and this album has its fair share of compelling material. In discovering the blues, she seems to have found her true muse, yet her earlier work is equally valid, though clearly coming from a quite different place. It is easy to say that Hidden Dreams could be stronger with more/longer songs but it is somehow quite satisfying just the way it is. Buy both albums and you might not recognise her as the same singer. Now that’s what I’d call a high class problem.

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