The Scottish singer-songwriter—famous for the 2006 hit "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"—starts her fifth album with an urge to purge, fantasizing about burning down her house and jumping into the fire. But in that opening track, "Invisible Empire," she decides it's not yet her time. Still, the emotions swell dramatically throughout this subtly melodic album about wonder and wanderlust.
The split/dual nature of the album reflects themes of mortality and the loss of love—she experienced the death of a friend and her father in quick succession and then got divorced. Spare, understated arrangements—lots of acoustic guitar, piano and chimes—showcase Tunstall's uncanny aptitude with a melody during the first half of the album (Invisible Empire). The second half (Crescent Moon) gets a little more experimental, employing darker, rough-hewn tones, playing up Tunstall's jazz-oriented sympathies and descending into the occasional scary soundscape.
It's not surprising, then, that the album was recorded at Tucson's Wavelab Studio, with Giant Sand visionary Howe Gelb producing. Sounds a bit like Gelb singing backup on the accordion- and strings-laden "Chimes," too.
Especially affecting are the twangy waltz "Made of Glass" and the ramshackle blues of "Feel It All," which takes a pretty turn when Tunstall lets loose with her lovely soprano. "How You Kill Me" is intimate and spooky, and that clarinet on "Honeydew" is irresistible. Marking Tunstall's debut on the legendary jazz label Blue Note Records, Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon is a worthy entrance into such hallowed company.