Singer/songwriter/guitarist Anna Calvi is one of the most promising female performers to appear in the last six months — and her rise has been almost meteoric. London born- and -raised Calvi got her start playing music early, beginning with the violin, later switching to guitar. As a solo artist more or less from the start, she played around her home city for a few years, but never really fit into any prescribed scene. She was, after all, a singular female with an unorthodox playing style, an unusual voice, and an obsession with dark glamour and offbeat musical predecessors like David Bowie.
In an era of so much cookie-cutter music, though, this kind of strident individualism struck a chord with a certain breed of music fan, especially those in the fashion world. Though Calvi shuns any kind of designer-focused style, she carefully chooses clothing as dramatic as her music, often appearing in frilly, men’s flamenco-style shirts.
This all added up to a self-titled first record this past January that debuted at number 40 on the U.K. charts. With its off-kilter song patterns and quavering, haunting guitar work, the success was well deserved. But beyond Calvi’s original compositions, she’s also known as an interpreter of other people’s songs, especially live. Here are three that are particularly striking.
“Sound and Vision,” originally by David Bowie
In this early, self-filmed YouTube video, Calvi attacked one of the greatest tracks by her idol Bowie in her attic, accompanied by a friend playing a squeezebox.
“Jezebel,” originally by Edith Piaf
It takes definite guts to cover a song as renowned as Edith Piaf’s “Jezebel.” But not only did Anna Calvi do so, but she’s performed the song to rousing reactions in Paris.
“Joan of Arc,” originally by Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen songs cover a wide, moody emotional palette, making them particularly suited to Calvi’s introspective re-workings. Her tinkling, wavy guitar playing gives the song almost an aquatic effect in this clip, taken from a performance at Le Nouveau Casino in Paris.