Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue. The collaboration between Tracyanne Campbell of the legendary Glaswegian indiepop outfit Camera Obscura and Danny Coughlan, a singer-songwriter operating under the name Crybaby, is a project that was first thought up back in 2013, where the former, touring with their then-current album Desire Lines, sought out Crybaby as their main support act. Ideas had been thrown around regarding the idea of working together on some songs. However, the tragic passing of Camera Obscura keyboard player Carey Lander in 2015 ground everything to a halt, until this year- Tracyanne & Danny‘s self-titled album (produced by the great Edwyn Collins) feels like a sudden break in silence for all parties involved- a clean break while still acknowledging their shared and separate pasts. Soulful, melancholic indiepop influenced by the likes of Scott Walker as much as they are by Postcard Records.
Henry Grace, with nothing more than a fingerpicked guitar offers pieces of stark Americana. Henry has an unassuming yet incredibly commanding presence, like a reincarnated travelling bluesman with his powerful yet world-weary voice and a ‘seen-it-all, done-it-all’ attitude that feels completely effortless on his part, Leonard Cohen meets O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is fitting, as he is indeed very well-travelled, having spent a fair amount of time playing his way around the United States of America- which adds to the authenticity of his style- he is a man who may well have spent years riding the rails, playing his guitar as he goes a-wandering.
As well as a selection of songs from his EPs Crash The Moon and What We Took From The Mountain, Henry bolsters his set with a handful of sublime covers- a slowed-down, pained version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, which he had picked up from hearing in various blues bars in Nashville, and a cover of The Smiths’ ‘Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ which is stripped of it’s trappings and reduced to a man singing straight into the void- the desperation of the lyrics perhaps even more apparent and cutting here than in the hands of it’s authors. There is an element of fragility to Henry’s music, leaving his soul bared on stage- the bold voice of a thousand broken hearts and a thousand miles walked.
The sounds of ‘You’re The Best Thing’ by The Style Council herald the arrival of Tracyanne & Danny, bolstered by their backing band into a five-piece. Opener ‘Baby Got It Bad’ moves with a Motown-style bass and drums, but a subtle keyboard has the summery charm of 1960s French pop (no doubt helped in that respect by the incredibly shiny brogues of Danny Coughlan)- it is this mesh of styles that gives Tracyanne & Danny’s music a sense of density, a maturity and sensibility with knowledge of pop history, which gives their songs a wonderfully timeless quality- Del Shannon meets Serge Gainsbourg meets The Delgados.
For those who saw Camera Obscura in a live environment, it came almost as a surprise to see Tracyanne smiling and laughing as much as she did over the course of the night- many of the songs the duo have worked on came with a story of how the lyrics came about, who they concern (Danny pulling no punches with this, happy to give full names and physical descriptions). The two are clearly having a huge amount of fun working together, and this warmth is manifest in the music just as much as on stage- the two share vocal duties, swapping between providing harmony backing vocals for one another and full-blown duets. The two voices compliment each other perfectly, with Tracyanne’s gentle, comforting burr contrasting with the Roy Orbison-esque Danny. As such, there are times when certain songs feel like natural extensions or evolutions of Camera Obscura or Crybaby- ‘Home & Dry’ feels like vintage Camera Obscura, while the soaring ‘Jacqueline’ is pure, unfiltered Crybaby. Other styles inhabit their world, with the Danny-penned ‘Cellophane Girl’ which could happily sit on Belle & Sebastian’s Tigermilk.
The last four songs of Tracyanne & Danny transcend the gig into something almost beyond words- the joyous ‘Alabama’, written in memory of Carey Lander, is the perfect mix of bright upbeat pop underpinned by the heartbreaking eulogy from Tracyanne to her dear friend: I couldn’t hope for a better soul / when I’m an old lady I’ll still miss you like crazy. This is followed by ‘O’Keeffe’, a gorgeous swooning ballad that sweeps and shimmers its way across the stage into the arms of the loving audience. A reworking of outsider art icon Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ removes the original’s shaky, fragile beauty and making it very much their own- Phil Spector by way of Partick- a triumphant shout urging not to give up hope. The cinematic closer ‘It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts’, with a melody teasingly similar to Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, is another melting pot of 60s pop, blue-eyed soul and lush, soft-focus indiepop- the culmination of both Camera Obscura and Crybaby, with an extended saxophone solo as the group draw to a close to rapturous response and possibly a few moist eyes in the crowd.
To quote my friend and +1 for the night, Sam: “damn…”. The last portion of Tracyanne & Danny was something magical that can only really be experienced in person. Hopefully this wonderful project is not a one-off and will being something we can look forward to experiencing again sometime soon.
Tracyanne & Danny performed at The Night & Day Café on 12th October 2018. Words and photos by Liam Moody