Album Review by Mark Bayross
Marc Almond’s credentials as a torch singer have already been proven with well-received solo shows across Europe and an extensive back catalogue of albums that include a collection of Jacques Brel covers and French Chansons, but HEART ON SNOW is an ambitious project even for him.
Having been approached in the late 90s by Russian producer Misha Kucherenko – who had spotted an artistic similarity in their work – Almond was asked to consider singing an album of Russian romance songs. Recorded in St. Petersburg and Moscow over two years and sung half in English, half in Russian, Almond duets with some of the country’s greatest singers – the first ever Westerner to do so.
The album was initially intended to be a simple, piano-led affair, but as the project began attracting more and more interested collaborators, it grew into this lush, orchestral collection, held together by arranger and producer André Samsonava. Charting the turbulent recent history of this vast, fascinating country, the songs of HEART ON SNOW range from plaintive laments to jaunty folk songs, while the Almond’s yearning voice either carries them solo or alongside legendary Russian singers such as Alla Bayanova and Ilya Lagutenko.
Hauntingly low-key throughout – with the notable exception of the spectacular electro-choral GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN – it’s a long way from his Soft Cell sound, but then Almond fans have been following his transformation into Euro-balladeer with considerable interest, and this is bound to continue their admiration.
For the rest of us, this is a unique and captivating glimpse of a culture and musical heritage far beyond the usual trappings of Western pop music and as such, is an essential listen, even if only once.