BBC Album Review 02/09/09

The Mummers, somewhat confusingly, is just one person – Raissa Khan-Panni. Having learnt oboe and taught herself to sing, she romped around Europe busking before coming back home to study music at Bristol. She then went on to trade solo under the name of Raissa back in the early 2000s to some critical acclaim if very few sales. Now, nearly a decade on, she’s channelled her talents and experiences into a new guise and is set for hopefully some bigger success this time around.

Written and recorded in a tree-house in Brighton – the many musicians would file in and out and record their contributions separately – Tale to Tell is a sumptuous affair. Grandiose and swelling with brass and string flourishes, it would appeal to anyone who’s enjoyed the likes of Rufus Wainwright’s Want,Goldfrapp’s spooky fairy tale era and the more Willy Wonka’d end of The Flaming Lips catalogue. Certainly not an album of minimalism, it finds Raissa surrounding herself with widescreen orchestration to create a fantasy world of her own, layering each song with rich instrumentation and glorious wonder.

Tale to Tell flows seamlessly into a cohesive whole, with musical motifs and patterns weaving in and out. At times it’s like being trapped in an MGM musical or something from London’s West End. Raissa’s voice, meanwhile, is a thing of delicate wonder but occasionally wanders into Björk territory, making comparisons inevitable.

Of the standouts, previous single Wonderland swirls like a Disney sequence aimed straight for the Radio 2 playlist with pleasing Blake’s 7 synths jostling with tootling flutes, and the almost child-like Place for Us is possibly one of the love songs of the year. The title track swoons on a river of violins and cavalry brass and forms the centrepiece of the album, offering a more bucolic chill out.

Hopefully Tale to Tell will find The Mummers a large audience of devoted followers who will be with them for life, and to these ears it’s genuinely surprising this missed out on a Mercury nomination. For all the daydreamers and first-flush of lovers, this album will be as essential to your life as breathing and toothpaste.

Ian Wade 2009-09-02