It’s been a while in the coming but this debut album from Tenement & Temple, the latest incarnation of Glasgow’s Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie, has been well worth the wait. Queen, in case anyone reading this doesn’t already know, has a voice to die for. There’s a compelling sense of innocence in her crystal clear delivery and it’s always tempting to describe her singing as angelic although she can belt out a rocker as evidenced on her and Smillie’s earlier recordings as Thrum. Smillie meanwhile, aside from being a superb guitarist, is a maestro in the studio as his lengthy list of production and arrangement credits will attest to.
While the pair have continued to buckle on the Les Paul’s and deliver the pulverising Crazy Horse like sturm und drang of Thrum on occasions, it’s been the subtler (and quieter) acoustic duo format which has been the mainstay of their live appearances over the past few years. Blabber’n’Smoke witnessed an early incarnation when the pair opened for Steve Earle in what was the first of the Summer Nights shows in Kelvingrove around five years ago and then a proper Tenement & Temple gig at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival in 2016. Superb as these shows were, they didn’t prepare one for the delights to be found within this disc.
Although it’s tempting to describe the album as mellow, there’s so much more to it than that. Gathering elements of country, classic sixties orchestral pop and swooning tin pan alley, it’s a gorgeous listen. Smillie keeps to acoustic guitar for the most part while Queen’s majestic vocals are occasionally enveloped in ethereal harmonies while the songs are wafted on a pillow of outstanding arrangements, some dreamlike, many evocative while remaining firmly within the Temple & Tenement universe, such is their unique calling card.
The album opens with the plaintive lament of Loving Arms with Queen summoning something of the spirit of the McGarrigle sisters over Smillie’s teardrop guitars. I Know adds some keening electric guitar to the mix as Queen’s spoken words counterpoint the angst fuelled desperation in her spiralling vocals on a song which comes across like an intense French torch song. Meanwhile, Your Sweet Face is a hypnotic swirl of cartoon Disney like innocence replete with shimmering guitars and star spangled percussion and It’s Been A While Lord is a shimmering song of devotion. Smillie’s skills are all too evident on the short but effective 10 More Years which marries Nashville misery and French chanson alongside a whiff of lee Hazlewood while the excellent Ripa finds the duo in a Latin mood transporting the listener to sunnier climes.
They close the album with a magnificent triple whammy. One Room House is an archetypal tear jerker with Queen doing a Tammy Wynette like spoken word part as Smillie works his wonders on the arrangement which is quite sublime. Where The Wild Roses Grow allows Queen the opportunity to wallow magnificently in the depths of Appalachian doom and gloom before they close the disc on a collaboration with Glasgow’s Strange Blue Dreams on what is possibly the best ever rendition of Blue Moon that we have heard. Taking Presley’s version as a template they usher the song into a twilight zone of phantom guitars as Queen’s voice quivers oh so brilliantly. If David Lynch were to hear this, he’d probably have an orgasm.