Back in 2009, Kristina Train’s debut album Spilt Milk came and went without leaving much (i.e. anything) in the way of a trace. Part the new Norah Jones, part the latest Amy Winehouse clone, the London-based New Yorker eclipsed neither and that very much seemed to be that.
But it turns out she’s made of stronger stuff. Others in her position may have decided that a lifetime of asking customers what topping they’d like on their pizza beckoned. Instead, in the three years Train took to lick her wounds, she switched labels, she ditched anything resembling jazz and she developed songwriting relationships with Ed Harcourt, Cherry Ghost’s Simon Aldred and, most significantly Martin “M. Craft” Craft. The results are startling.
Blessed with a crystal-clear voice which exudes addictive grief, Train coats her despair in twinkling, edgy tunes. The combination makes her not just a voice of real, believable depth, but a genuine contender, too.
The heartbreaking title track gives Sade a run in the imperial, glacial despair stakes and it’s as lyrically unyielding as Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away.
And for all its jaunty title, the initial lyrical similarity to Perfect Day and its Twin Peaks-ian guitar twang, Saturdays Are the Greatest is the sound of being torn apart with loneliness: “It’s not much of a party when you’re the girl on her own,” she laments, “And Saturday turns to Sunday and you wake up alone.”
Train sounds battered by life at every turn, and even the relatively upbeat Stick Together broods with foreboding. The sound may be 21st century – she’s certainly not retro – but while her multi-layered richness takes her beyond genre, her emotion and that believability indicate soul at its deepest and most timeless.
The echo-laden Lose You Tonight seems to be propelled by a melancholy harp, while both the piano that underpins her stomach-tightening version of Band of Horses’ already pitch-black No One’s Gonna Love You and the bereft January could make a taxman cry.
The magnificent Lonely Sinner is probably the pick of an outstanding bunch, but each listen reveals another favourite. An extraordinary record.