The last ten years have been quite momentous for Ane Brun. Born Ane Brunvoll in Molde, Norway in 1976, she has in that time become one of Scandinavia’s foremost singer-songwriters, won three prestigious Spellemannprisen awards, and become a fixture on her country’s charts. Her sort-of-double album It All Starts With One was delayed by Brun’s touring commitments with Peter Gabriel, but upon release in 2011 cracked the Swedish charts and felt like a mature artistic statement from a confident, established artist. To mark her ten years in the music world, Brun is releasing Songs 2003 – 2013, a hefty selection from her back catalogue, as well as a previously-unannounced Rarities set.
Brun’s work has never been the easiest to critique, as her serious and often pensive music tends to demand a good deal of repeated listens to fully appreciate. Songs is no exception, especially as it collects a generous 32 tracks drawn both from her albums – from 2003’s Spending Time With Morgan to It All Starts With One – and a number of live cuts, alternate versions, and recordings from other projects. The sheer length and breadth of the collections means that Songs may not be the most ideal introduction to Brun’s work (her international breakthrough Changing of the Seasons would probably be a safer bet) but it does provide a good way for those who are somewhat more familiar to dig deeper in.
Songs reflects the dominance of one type of song over Brun’s career to date – that of tender, observant love songs built around Brun’s voice and guitar and enlivened with strings or piano. Everything in this mode is beautifully recorded and played, and much of it stands up well even if Brun circa 2003 is obviously not at the height of her powers. Where this collection really shines, however, is in its very well-chosen selection of those songs on which Brun has experimented outside her natural mode.
Among these are the superb cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, which was originally merely a bonus track on Seasons before it was rescued from obscurity by a TV advert. Two fragile but slightly more fast-paced highlights from Seasons also appear in the form of “The Puzzle” and “Ten Seconds”, the latter in a stripped-down form recorded for the Sketches album. Here, Brun benefits from experimenting with something a little more immediate than usual, and the songs make for a pleasant change of pace. Elsewhere, she sounds even more emotional than usual on the the fine non-English efforts “Alfonsina y el Mar” and “Du Grater Sa Store Tara”, sung in Spanish and Norwegian respectively. The latter is a particularly fine and delicate piano ballad, probably an improvement on the English recording on It All Starts With One.
Brun has recorded many duets over the years, but of the several that appear here only one really withstands repeated listens. Her appearance on Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” is very slight, but she very nearly matches Kate Bush’s original performance – it is hardly surprising that Gabriel was so keen on Brun accompanying him on the tour that supported the New Blood album on which this recording originally appeared.
While not the ideal introduction to Ane Brun’s fine body of work, Songs is certainly an excellent way to collect a good number of her most interesting songs in one place. The somewhat bloated and slightly confused nature of It All Starts With One implied that this kind of retrospective was what Brun needed – here’s to hoping she has another equally intriguing ten years ahead.