Clare Teal's That's the Way It Is inhabits the dark territory of Baz Luhrmann's film "Moulin Rouge". It takes the music of the last century, reshapes it and reflects it back as in a fairground hall of mirrors. Clare's voice is smooth and bell-like, but with the suggestion of something dangerous lurking beneath, and her expression is masterful. She can be playful and innocent in one chorus and mischievous and threatening in the next.
"You're My Thrill" is a slow and measured exploration of desire sung with a vibrato which harks back to the first half of last century. Clare's similarly languorous delivery of "Speak Low" gives it the intimacy and artifice of travelling theatre, mischief oozing out until the song becomes urgent and threatening.
On the other hand, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's "How Little We Know" is an arrangement to synchronised swim to (with the backing singers happy housewives from a 50's hoover ad). Even in this upbeat waltz, though, Clare manages to inject the uneasy feeling that all is not what it seems.
With these backward-looking and unsettling aspects to her music, its easy to see why Clare credits Neil Hannan of The Divine Comedy as a songwriting influence. Her own song "Sleep Little Man" uses humming and sharp in-breaths to crank up the tension at the start. It's a brooding, theatrical piece with a cabaret raunchiness to it which becomes almost obsessional in the final phrases.
A dash of wry humour seeps into "Messin' With Fire" and "Heber, the Receiver", both written by Clare. "Messin' With Fire" is light gypsy jazz with a touch of "The Weakest Link" wickedness, while in "Heber" Clare has shape-shifted from Anne Robinson into an Andrews sister. "Heber" is a whimsical piece in the style of "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", featuring spoons and stride piano. On closer inspection of the lyrics, though, it seems that there's something sinister about Mr. Heber and his fancy cakes.
Nothing is quite as it seems in That's The Way It Is. The standards sound fresh and new, while Clare Teal's own songs already sound like standards. The material is delivered with all the emotions of the Big Top, from wonder to fear, and Clare isn't just the singer in this spectacle, she's the clown, the lion tamer and the trapeze artiste too!