After more than ten years Olive released their CD, Extra Virgin (nice pun, that), I had occasion once again to pop it into my carousel and see how well, or how badly, it’s aged. It’s a little thing I like to do especially since I have a burgeoning CD collection and were it not for my obsessive need to cull out those albums I feel have overstayed their welcome, embarrassments like Johnny Hates Jazz and Great White would still be languishing in my catalog.
On hearing the first atmospheric pulses of the opening track, “Miracle”, I couldn’t wonder why this album lay dormant in my collection for so long. Through its twelve tracks, Extra Virgin offers up music that moves you like the crest and trough of a gentle wave. There’s no sonic assault or anthemic chorus, but just trickles of synth washes wrapped in languid, jazzy club beats.
Olive is a threesome made up of Tim Kellett, Robin Taylor-Firth and the single monikered chanteuse, Ruth-Ann. Kellett is responsible for the keyboards, lyrics, trumpet and flugelhorn, while Taylor-Firth also mans the keyboards as well as the programming and arrangements. Of course that leaves Ruth-Ann all by her lonesome to provide lead vocals, and unlike the slew of today’s shrieking, note-holding divas, Ruth-Ann is refreshing with an unassuming approach. Her understated delivery buttresses Kellett’s simple, sometimes poetic lyrics. As such, tracks like “Safer Hands” and “Killing”, or even Olive’s only conspicuous hit, “You’re Not Alone”, possess a melancholy edge with out ever having to resort to histrionics.
Resting all the laurels on Ruth Ann would be remiss since Kellett and Firth also do their part to keep the champagne popping. Moody keyboard progressions abound throughout and supple bass lines that seem to be dipped in water soften what could easily threaten to be predictable hard club sounds. “Safer Hands” starts with an inspired cow bell while “Blood Red Tears”, “Muted” and “I Don’t Think So” are accented with a horn arrangement so sexy, it may as well do the lovemaking for you. Just when you think the drum-and-bass of “Curious” sounds a bit dated, Kellett and Firth prove they have enough studio flourishes up their sleeve to keep it on its edge. “This Time” is a delightful midtempo piece set off by a church organ that sounds like it’s been submerged underwater, and “Falling” makes you feel like you’re, well, falling in love. “Slower than the sun goes down/..surer than the earth is round, there is no doubt in my mind, I’m falling (in love).” I would have given my eye teeth to have written a couplet like that!
An alchemist’s way with rhythms, Olive offers a CD that begs to be listened to on some gentle trade wind beach in Majorca, drink in hand with oversized sunglasses. Lazy without being dreary, sincere without any of the hand wringing, Extra Virgin transports you to that lounge chair with the obscenely oversized pool by your side. Of course, for those of us who are still grouting the tile in our guitar-shaped pool, you can always do what I do: close your eyes.