I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to the music of the Portland Cello Project, the appropriately named musical collective consisting of a shifting lineup of 18 cellists that play everything from Bach to Britney Spears. While that may sound like the recipe for one of those awful 'string tribute to" albums, the band are getting ready to release a surprising and gorgeous record entitled The Thao and Justin Power Sessions, featuring selections from both musicians as well as some PCP instrumental covers from unrelated sources. Thao, who's quirky vocal style has caught my attention before, and Justin Power, who I've never had the pleasure of hearing, both perform previously written and recorded songs given new life from the collective's beautiful and appropriate string arrangements, resulting in some thoroughly impressive moments on the new album.
Though it would seem Sessions might appeal most to those familiar with either of the two artists mentioned in the album's title, I found the music immediately engaging despite my relative unfamiliarity with the material. After one listen, I was hooked. Power's offerings revolve around his acoustic guitar and slightly rough tenor voice which are wisely allowed to shine through the swirl of strings. Both the delicate, lonely "Hungry Liars" and the somewhat haunting closer "Travel" are excellent. Thao's tunes have a more theatrical edge to them, like the aching "Tallymarks" and the whimsical "Violet," but they stay fairly relaxed as well. PCP's arrangements add a measure of poignancy to her lyrics but they stop short of completely reinterpreting the songs.
The instrumental covers are nice enough and they tie the record together, but it's the guests that shine brightest, which is just as it should be. Effectively blending the talents of these singer/songwriters with the cellist's exceptional musicanship, The Thao and Justin Power Sessions is an album that should hopefully push this group further into the spotlight, so I suggest you check out Portland Cello Project as soon as possible. To hear some of the band's older music, check them out on MySpace, and be sure to download "Tallymarks" below.