Concert review: Susanna

Studio, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry UK

The Norwegian singer could have made a whole career out interpreting other people’s songs. After all, it takes a singular talent to perform songs by Leonard Cohen, Dolly Parton, AC/DC, Kiss, Joy Division, Roy Harper and Henry Purcell, and to make them not only distinctively her own but so refreshed as to, in many cases, replace the originals in our affections.

But Susanna is not only a singer, she is a songwriter in her own right, and has built up a strong book of her own material, which was what she wanted to concentrate on last night. She used her voice, the grand piano and the distinctive guitar stylings of Helge Sten (Supersilent, Deathprod) and the distinctive drumming of Erland Dahlen to bring a remarkably broad dynamic range to the songs, from whisper to full-throated cry, from delicate chamber filigree to almost baroque, thick rock noise.

Many of the songs – Freeze, Oh I Am Stuck, Starving Soul, Imagine (“Not that Imagine,” as she dryly introduced it), Wild Horse Wild Dog – came from her latest CD, Wild Dog, and show her slowly honing her style into a more rounded, perhaps even commercially accessible, one, though the ones from the earlier Flower Of Evil disc – especially Demon Dance – were just as effective – and affecting.

Susanna kindly gave us the song that first brought her to attention outside Norwegian, Dolly Parton’s Jolene, and it was even more magical in live performance. We were also treated to a fine reading of Roy Harper’s Twelve Hours Of Sunset (available as a download from her website) and the closing encore was Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.

It would be easy to suggest that all Susanna does is slow everything down and sing in an articulate whisper. Easy, and a lazy travesty of what she does. She is an extraordinarily skilled singer, able to vary her tone from icy moonlight to warm embrace in a syllable, and although she might turn it most often to expressing heartbreak and loss, she also conveys joy, challenge and triumph.

Part of a sounduk tour, this was a very fine concert with beautiful sound from an artist who deserves – and will eventually achieve – a much bigger audience.

Find out more about Susanna and her music – including her new record label – here.

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