Well, who would have thought it—Vancouver’s “piano pop laureate” Ann Vriend a former spy? But that’s what the Canadian singer/songwriter would have you believe on her third full-length album, When We Were Spies. The thematic conceit allows her to chart a covert love affair through songs filled with clandestine meetings, double-speak and one-way glass, while billowing strings, lush electro-pop synth arrangements, tinkling piano and, the best instrument of all, her jazzy, impassioned country-soul voice rise up from the intimate surroudings of her previous outings and take on a widescreen quality in keeping with the pop-noir story of a shadowy femme fatale. There are brief moments on the record when you’d wish the moody, ‘80s synth-swirl had been turned down a notch (especially on “Start Over” and “Hallowe’en”). However, these are minor quibbles easily forgotten as Vriend sets her sensual vocal chords free with double-track abandon on swooning opener “(If We Are Not) Spies”, lends a certain freewheeling panache to the verses of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” and delivers a exquisite slice of torch-singer vulnerability on “St. Paul”. This is one well-kept secret that everyone should have access to.
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