If angels played guitars instead of harps, and heaven was a seedy underground music venue, then one could safely say Anna Calvi plays guitar like an angel. Her interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc”, with its sliding twangs and gentle, swirling cascades, is a thing of classical beauty. [link]

Her self-titled debut album promises more of this delightful stuff, opening with “Rider to the Sea”, a Ry Cooder-esque instrumental that’s simple, eerie and tumbleweedy, building up to an edgy crescendo and then segueing happily into “No More Words”, which marries Calvi’s voice at its sweetest low with a nostalgic, mysterious melody.

But then things start to get big. Bold, brash, full of contrasts, this is an album of cinematic proportions. At its lush, dark, sexiest best it’s a soundtrack David Lynch could use. At its most glamorous and unsubtle it’s the theme to a Bond film that has lost its sense of humour.

Calvi’s voice is huge – operatic and deep, with an unwavering intensity. In the less successful songs, such as the slightly clichéd “Suzanne & I”, the vocals are borderline Shirley Bassey. Booming through several melodramatic, over-the-top numbers in a row it can begin to feel like a bit of a barrage.

But when allowed to vary it’s a delight. “Morning Light” provides a gentle reprieve from the bombardment, letting the vocals settle down into a quiet softness that somehow remains full and sonorous. And in “The Devil”, as Calvi sings huskily up and down the scales accompanied by a fiendish flamenco-style guitar, we get a nice juxtaposition of drama and understatement.

Young, loud and challenging, this album is a demanding listen. It’s a devil of a thing to sit through. And although rewarding, a little more of that variety might have made it more easily palatable. Perhaps I’m getting old, but occasionally throughout I couldn’t help but think longingly of Calvi’s hypnotic instrumentals, yearning for that angelic peace and quiet.

Released: Thu 3rd Feb 2011