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Anna Calvi is a brilliant guitar player, and if it stopped there, I'd still be captivated by her music. But Calvi's playing is only the underpinning of the superb songs she writes and sings — and that's saying nothing of her incredible voice.
Calvi's music has roots in the 1950s, but that's a bit misleading. Nostalgia isn't a driving force in her work; but it's more like the spare sound you might hear in the guitar twang of Duane Eddy. It's the passion of Elvis Presley or Edith Piaf that feeds this music. And yet Calvi, who is British and born in 1982, infuses her songs with something new.
The slow build that takes place in just three short songs performed at the NPR Music offices — from a guitar instrumental to the final primal cry of "Jezebel" — is nothing short of astonishing. It's as succinct a glimpse into the arc and soul of an artist as I've seen at a Tiny Desk performance.
Calvi's self-titled debut was nominated for the Mercury Prize last year, and I would have been glad to see it win. If you don't know anything about her, this spare but powerful performance provides a perfect introduction.
Producer and Editor: Bob Boilen; Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Cristina Fletes/NPR