It’s long been noted that British folks with very thick speaking accents often sound very American when singing. In 1983, a British sociolinguist named Peter Trudgill studied the phenomenon and concluded the disparity in inflection probably owed to the fact that the British singers were so deeply influenced by American music. Similarly, British musicians like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, were the first ones who popularized American roots music among white audiences.
On Amitié, the second album from Stewart Lindsey, Englishman and Eurythmics veteran Dave Stewart and DeRidder, Louisiana’s Thomas Lindsey, the duo further hones its effective trans-Atlantic collaboration by marrying Stewart’s encyclopedic knowledge of American soul and blues to Lindsey’s preternaturally soulful vocals.
Lindsey’s androgynous falsetto vocals that open the album’s first single,”Liberation,” grab the listener by the lapels. With a voice like melting candle wax, Lindsey sings the first lines of the song: “Don’t stare at me/ With that look in your eyes/ Don’t stare at me/ Like I’m the one who needs to realize.” Lindsey is soon joined by sparse guitar and bass as the groove takes shape around his vocal melody. The groove is buoyed by a bass drum and guitar scratches as the chorus kicks in. His serpentine vocals become part of the groove.
“Liberation’s coming to the land of the free/ Liberation’s coming to you and me,” he sings. The song’s dynamic progress is like watching a beautiful woman stand up and glide across the room, languid and sultry, yet purposeful.
Stewart, who helped produce a documentary about the Delta blues in the 1990s called “Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads,” has spent his career—like many British musicians—studying American roots music with the sophistication of a scholar. His research has equipped the native of Sunderland, in Northern England, with a vast arsenal of musical tools and a unique sonic palette informed by American blues, soul, jazz and early rock and roll.
Dave Stewart and Lindsey collaborated remotely on Amitié, trading demos back and forth via email. In some cases, Stewart would send Lindsey some music he was working on, so the singer could add a vocal melody. In other cases, Lindsey would send Stewart some vocals and Stewart would produce a backing track.
While “Liberation” was very clearly a vocal track sent to Stewart, who then added music, “Storm Came” began with Stewart’s bluesy dobro guitar to which Lindsey appended his sonorous vocals. As a result, the song feels a little more riff-centric, as Lindsey’s overdubbed vocal harmonies swirl around Stewart’s earthy slide guitar lines. The amalgamation evokes comparisons to the acoustic stomps of Led Zeppelin, another British band unafraid to mine America’s precious musical ore.
“Hold On” features a powerfully sultry vocal from Lindsey that Stewart slowly augments with sparkling guitar and droning organ. As Lindsey sings “hold on” during the chorus, the music swells with a slide guitar and what sounds like rain in the background. Stewart makes use of field recordings and atmospheric sounds to make his tracks come alive. Lindsey’s voice manages to combine the haunting mood of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” with the dance-floor-friendly power of Martha Wash and C+C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now.”
While Eurythmics fans may miss the lush synthesizers and Annie Lennox’s silky vocals, Stewart’s latest collaboration reaffirms one of his great talents is finding a musical mood that suits the powerful voice he’s working with. Amitié is wonderfully gritty goodness, festooned with downtrodden authenticity, basking in the glory of a sunrise reflected in an oil sheen swirling on the surface of the Mississippi River.