Sweaty, sleazy soul is a wonderful thing. Listen to Aretha Franklin's breakthrough work with the oily funk of the Muscle Shoals Band and I defy you not to squirm in your office chair with bodily delight. It's hot, it's scratchily humid, it's a sonic miracle.
But so many bad copies have been made that the originals are at risk. So ALA.NI has stepped away from her career slinging harmonies for Mary J Blige and Blur and has revived an untrendy, stagey sound. She's the reincarnation of Deitrich, Day and Hepburn and it's sublime.
When she sings, every consonant is perfectly placed, an arch syncopation dotting the most everyday phrases. ALA.NI is capable of enunciating like a New England ice queen while stroking a note like Ella Fitzgerald. Her tales of loving manipulation and earnest cheating drip with rich contempt and aching defiance but the delivery is old-fashioned, controlled and haughty.
For a long time probably the least cool thing in entertainment has been to admit that you've been to stage school. Singing like you're in a musical is a no-no even if you're actually in one.
ALA.NI went to stage school and sings like she's the star of a 1950s revue. She preens over her notes, taking ostentatious time and care to get each one exactly right. There is no pretence here that this is unschooled emotion straight from the soul. She is giving a performance and giving in completely to the artifice, the fakery and the controlled theatricality of her craft.
ALA.NI's recorded music is pretty but samey. In a large arena or a stadium it might melt into a profitable sonic blancmange of Adele proportions. But in an embarrassingly poorly attended gig (I go to better-attended office meetings several times a week: she charmingly invites everyone to introduce themselves a couple of songs in. 'Hi, I'm Tom') with just a guitar for accompaniment it becomes magical. To be so close to someone who make such perfect sound is an almost-religious experience. Her large frame extends out beyond the stage, seemingly to touch us all. Her controlling confidence urges surrender to her charming sonic whims. Her every perfectly-annunciated, archly-crafted note marks her out as a master of the manipulation and uplifting delusion needed to carry an audience of strangers into your most intimate musings.
This is alchemy: the taking of slightly-samey retro folk and the conversion of it into something close to a cult. On another night in a bigger venue with rain dripping outside and a babysitter to rush home to maybe it would have been just good. In a near-empty King Tut's one Glasgow summer evening it was somewhere close to perfect.