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SANDRA BELL (Buy CDs by this artist)
Black Birds EP (NZ Volcanic Productions) 1986
Dreams of Falling (NZ Xpressway) 1992
Net (IMD) 1995
City of Sorrows (VHF) 2000

The sound of Sandra Bell's music has changed a great deal over her fitful recording career, but her songwriting has maintained two attributes: a flair for deft turns of phrase (she's a published poet) and a preoccupation with place. That place is usually her homeland, New Zealand, but some of her '90s recordings reflect her global travels. As a singer, Bell juggles fervent emotion and characteristic Kiwi reserve; as a guitarist and arranger, she's moved beyond the folk-rock of her early records to embrace corrosive rock and edgy experimentation.

Her debut, the sole record issued by a short-lived feminist art's collective, is also her most externally focused and least sonically daring. Dreams of Falling is a stunning tour de force that balances similarly observational lyrics with more personal material; trademark production by Peter Jefferies and accompaniment by members of the Xpressway crew give Bell a much broader palette. If you only buy one of Bell's records, this is the one to get.

Half of Net sustains the rock direction, while the other half weds her early folk moves to a recent penchant for sonic adventure. In 1996, Bell moved to Germany, where she recorded City of Sorrows for the American VHF label.

[Bill Meyer]
   
This piece was first published in Badaboom Gramophone #3 and appears here with permission.