Duo Tracyanne & Danny sing with generosity of heart and spirit

Tracyanne Campbell of Glaswegian indie collective Camera Obscura and Bristol-based songsmith Danny Coughlan team up on Tracyanne & Danny.
Tracyanne Campbell of Glaswegian indie collective Camera Obscura and Bristol-based songsmith Danny Coughlan team up on Tracyanne & Danny.PHOTO: MERGE

INDIE POP/ROCK

TRACYANNE & DANNY

Tracyanne & Danny

Merge

4 stars


If you didn't know better, you'd have thought the zesty track Alabama on Tracyanne & Danny's debut album is merely about wanderlust, an ode to globetrotting or, at most, Americana.

As is the case, the track is also a fitting tribute to Carey Lander, keyboardist of Glaswegian indie collective Camera Obscura who died of bone cancer in October 2015 - and the best friend of the band's vocalist, Tracyanne Campbell.

Tracyanne Campbell of Glaswegian indie collective Camera Obscura and Bristol-based songsmith Danny Coughlan team up on Tracyanne & Danny.

With Camera Obscura put on hold, Campbell has partnered Danny Coughlan, the Bristol-based songsmith better known as Crybaby, and the resulting collaboration is a testament to the generosity of heart and spirit.

It is a recovery record of the unlikeliest kind. It never errs on the side of twee. "When I'm an old lady/ I'll still miss you like crazy," she promises over an unexpected country waltz. Her distinct yet unflashy croon captures a mix of longing and melancholy as the music remains resolutely hopeful, lit with soothing strings, sparkling keys and languorous pedal steel.

She is accompanied by a surprise guest, Scottish musician Edwyn Collins, whose secluded cliff-top studio this album was recorded in. Collins - a Britpop music icon and health-scare survivor - lends a tinge of wistfulness to the proceedings.

Such is this air of comradeship - these are human portraitures whose hidden extraordinariness is illuminated by the duo's patience and kindness.

Take someone downtrodden like Jacqueline. Coughlan sings about the titular character with equal parts gentleness and unsentimentality. "Look at the mess you're in/ Tired in your own skin," he sings like a crackly Roy Orbison, as Campbell backs up with her sturdy, doo-wop vocals.

Campbell takes the lead vocals in 2006, another zinger whose surface loveliness is subverted by time's cruel lucidity.

Recalling a diary entry where she documented an infatuation, she sings against starlit riffs and horn: "And then our passion is gone/I put my life in a song/I sing the words, they're true/I was as mean as you."

This mix of retro-luxurious and honest sentiments aligns Tracyanne & Danny alongside artists such as Richard Hawley and even Destroyer, whose exquisite, quiffed retro-pop melodies belie razor-sharp studies of human behaviour.

Less obvious than other female-male duos such as She & Him - the project by M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel - or even the pairing of former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell and American rocker Mark Lanegan, this project curiously does not amplify, or at least trade in, gender roles or stereotypes.

In that way, Tracyanne & Danny transcends stock markers in pursuit of human connection beyond creed and class.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2018, with the headline 'Duo sing with generosity of heart and spirit'. Print Edition | Subscribe