Welcome to the wacky and wonderful world of singer-songwriter Annabelle Chvostek, where one is in a Paris café listening to le jazz hot one minute only to get lost in a South American tango the next. The record was co-produced by Fernando Rosa, who recorded Uruguayan musicians in Montevideo, and Toronto’s David Travers-Smith, who oversaw the Canadian jazz artists’ contributions. Chvostek’s rich and quirky vocals tie the styles together. She’s Edith Piaf one moment, Betty Boop the next. Her main goal is to be amusing whether she’s crooning in French, scat singing nonsense words, offering an English language narrative about desire, or hitting the high notes on the joys of love. One always has the sense that Chvostek is showing off. She’s an entertainer who refuses to bore the listener.
The fun begins with the very first cut, “Je T’ai Vue Heir Soir” with the effervescent sound of a vibraphone leading the way through a bouncy cacophony of clarinet, fiddle, drums, and guitar sounds and Chvostek’s multilingual vocals. The singer goes through a number of different musical styles (including multitracking her vocals) and expresses the urgency of one in love in a lighthearted manner. There’s a sweetness to the whole affair that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Chvostek hails from Toronto from immigrant parents and released four solo albums before joining the Wailin’ Jennys in 2004. She left that band in 2008 and put out outstanding solo records that were nominated for JUNO and Canadian Folk Music awards before a health scare caused her to put a hold on her career in 2014. String of Pearls is her first record in six years.
Chvostek’s Eastern European roots emerge most strongly on “Cannabin”, with its oompah tuba sounds looming in the background as the singer wails and trills. The song takes off at an unexpectedly fast pace with more than a minute left as in a rush to finish before dropping off. The unexpected change of speed makes one giggle as to what the heck is going on. These kinds of moments occur regularly on the album and add a Dada-esque element to the proceedings. One is never sure where a song is headed.
Songs such as “String of Pearls”, “Walls”, and “The Fool” often use the contrast between what’s being sung versus what’s being played to create disorientating effects. For example, “Walls” begins as a quiet rumination on life and love with the singer and an acoustic guitar declaring her happiness. The music gets claustrophobic with classical arrangements and added instruments overtaking the vocals. The singer sounds trapped in her happiness—her love has created a wall around her. Is she really in high spirits or not is ambiguous.
There are two genuinely happy cuts, and they end the album albeit to leave the listener in a good mood. “Firefly (You Just Love)” is another silly love song that perhaps makes one believe the world could use another one. “Baby Baby Baby” is an ode from a mother to her child that suggests all is right with the world. These two tracks are less sophisticated than what comes before and, as a result, a tad less interesting, but they do have their charms. Like a real String of Pearls, the effect of the entire piece of jewelry (the album as a whole) is more impressive than each gem.