petra_haden_petra_goes_to_the_moviesIt’s Shrove Tuesday!  And while the rest of the world celebrates the onset of Lent by indulging in big sparkly parades with shenanigans aplenty, we Brits pretty much fry glue.  Ah well, each to their own.

But enough of this, I need to get this typed out before the unremitting misery of Ash Wednesday befalls us.  This quirky gem is from an artist who appears on quite a few of the records in here either as guest vocalist or instrumentalist, but this is the first instance where I have bought something with her name on the front.  And what a strange place for me to be starting this with.

In the great realm of Album Titling with all its many rules and regulations, Petra Goes To The Movies can easily be filed in the “Yup, that pretty much explains it” cabinet.  Essentially, this is Petra Haden performing songs from films.  But – and it’s a big but – this, for the most part, is not your usual collection of reimagined cinematic showtunes.  For one, the choice is a lot more eclectic and obviously personal than most (a broad church that takes in Tootsie, Cool Hand Luke, Psycho and Superman), but most of the tracks are performed in Petra’s own unique manner, which is to provide all the orchestration herself, without any instruments.  This isn’t the first time she’s done this – a quick jaunt around proprietary internet video sites unearthed a veritable host of symphonic a capella covers, including The Who Sell Out in its entirety.

And while the mere notion of this approach may have some people fleeing for the hills, a quick sit-down with the tunes in question reveals a rather warm and charming collection of songs that is incredibly listenable.  My favourite piece here is the second track, Bernard Hermann’s haunting God’s Lonely Man from Taxi Driver – partly because I love the film and original score (which – duh! – always helps with compilations of film music), but mostly because the inhuman, lonely nature of the original composition weirdly fits in so well with the idea of performing it with just human sounds.  Sticking with Herrmann, the theme from Psycho is also related in paranoid, breathy tones.

It’s probably strange to describe someone’s voice as having ‘naturally brassy qualities’, but it does have to be said that the tracks that employ the parpier parts of the traditional orchestra that are among the more fun ones here.  Starting with the solitary vocal trumpetry of A Fistful Of Dollars (which I have to admit reminds me of a strange Dudley Moore/Cilla Black duet of a Beatles track on the BBC) through the archetypal, iconic Goldfinger (the first track where actual singing with words is involved) and up to the sweeping Superman theme (one of two tunes from the same film), the sheer scale of great cinema music is related in the oddest possible way but without losing any of its strength or grandeur.

Such is the strength of these performances, it actually comes across as strange when Petra reverts to a more “normal” type with the (real) guitar and vocal performance of the tender It Might Be You from Tootsie, a switch that genuinely took me by surprise and something that kind of shows the success of the other pieces here by providing such a uniquely immersive experience.  The beautiful This Is Not America brings the curtain down on an album that on paper comes across as really odd, but when sat in the ears it’s a really lovely way to while away the time listening to someone making incredibly (and literally) personal versions of music that she so obviously loves.