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Golden Rockets

-- Matthew Hilburn

CHRISTINE COLLISTER
The Dark Gift of Time (Koch)
Blue Aconite (Koch)

Don't you just love the word "ululate"? The word itself means "to howl, hoot or wail," but that's not as important as the sound it makes when it pours out of your mouth; the lush, ringing sound of the doubled "oo" sound slapped up against that slippery "el" -- not once, but twice -- sends waves of pleasant vibrations up and down your body. If you can project that feeling across the entire spectrum of vowel and consonant sounds, you begin to understand the voice of Christine Collister.

Collister has remained just under the critical and popular radar for the entirety of her career. During the '80s she maintained a dual career, working as a background vocalist with Richard Thompson's outstanding live band and recording as part of a duo with songwriter extraordinaire Clive Gregson. After splitting from both jobs, she released an obscure live album four years ago.

In the last couple of months, two new releases have appeared in the U.S. Collister writes or co-writes only a few songs on each album -- all of which are delightful -- and concentrates on covering the songs of others. On Blue Aconite, she invests her soul in material from Jesse Winchester, Sam Phillips, Richard Thompson, Gillian Welch, Anna McGarrigle, Lal Waterson, the Isley Brothers and Tom Waits. It is The Dark Gift of Time, however, that comes closest to perfection. Session appearances from Richard Thompson on guitar and B.J. Cole on pedal steel are perfect foils for Collister's voice on Bruce Cockburn's "The Whole Night Sky" and Tom Waits' "Dirt in the Ground," respectively. David Olney's mysterious and riveting "Deeper Well" is placed in a timeless realm of longing and desire through an imaginative all-percussion arrangement. Elvis Costello's "I Want to Vanish" is delivered with a smooth melancholy only hinted at on the original. Collister conjures up the sound of someone who has just seen a sure sign of death on Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog." Nothing else on Dark Gift reaches the amazing heights of those five songs, though a brave take on Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" is worth noting, and Collister's two originals, "Point Scarlett" and, especially, "Always There" are beautiful tunes beautifully sung. Pop music this polished, with this much attention to mood and craft, is rare in our world today. Both Blue Aconite and The Dark Gift of Time are consistently rewarding and deserve to be noticed as the work of a master interpreter.

-- Steve Pick

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