Sabina – Toujours Review

SABINA Toujours

Toujours is a head spinning ride through the yin and yang of human emotion, from ebullient joy to deep introspection, with love as the common thread.

Bar/None Records, 2014

8.5 / 10

Sabina Sciubba, co-founder and mysterious strutting frontwoman of the NYC band Brazilian Girls (not all members are girls and no members are Brazilian), ventures out on her own with Toujours. Born in Rome to a German mother and an Italian father, Sabina lived in Italy, Germany, then France before coming to the U.S. She was in New York City for a decade with Brazilian Girls before returning to Paris, where she now resides. Toujours feels more raw and intimate than the thumping and theatrical dance-heavy nature of her Brazilian Girls work, but her nomadic lifestyle and joyous embrace of all things multi-cultural shines through all 12 tracks.

Sabina’s love of ’60s and ’70s American rock and pop music is abundantly and immediately clear from the opener, “Cinema”, which is a dead ringer for the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”; unlike Nico, however, Sabina can actually sing. The song is an ode to the flickering nature of film, comparing the medium to an old whore and asking what she is today: “Are you propaganda or are you art?” Ultimately, it’s a love song to cinema despite its cultural decline.

Love is the common thread throughout this intricate patchwork of songs and moods. The second track “Viva L’Amour” brings to mind Coleridge’s poem “Desire”: “Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame/It is the reflex of our earthly frame/That takes its meaning from the nobler part/And but translates the language of the heart”. With fiery images, the madness of desire, hand claps and a funk-sexy saxophone solo, Sabina sings: “I asked a man for a light and he caught on fire … I’ve asked you for a kiss and you set me on fire with desire”.

Recorded over a year (in Paris, on guitar, and only when inspiration struck) the album bounces from rock anthem, ’60s punk-pop, mariachi and calypso, eerie folk, to jazzy torch song. The result is a head spinning ride through the yin and yang of human emotion, from ebullient joy to deep introspection. There’s not a single cliche on the record — even on the mainstream pop/rock sound of “Long Distance Love” with its marching beat and multi-lingual lyrics (“L’Amour e raro/True love is rare”) there is a refreshingly unique vision. You’re not quite sure where she’s taking you — bouncing around NYC or skittering through narrow Paris streets — but you’re glad to be tagging along.

The mostly Italian “Non Mi Aspettare” features an insistent beat like a racing heart or the frenetic footsteps of a seeker and searcher: “Don’t wait up for me … the world is my oyster, but an oyster needs the sea”. The obsessive need for travel, to be moving constantly, is palpable. The title track is an infectiously bright standout, with an opening like Walter Wanderly (or, dare I say Sir Julian?) rising from the grave, skeletal hands punching at the keys of a lounge-act-worthy organ keyboard. “Toujours. We must make the most of it. Always — say always — we might as well be happy”.

“Tabarly” is a mariachi/calypso hybrid with a spoken intro, a fairytale that takes us from sea to outer space, followed by “Sailor’s Daughter”, a soulful confessional about a mysterious seafarer’s daughter with a questionable past who seems to have lost everything but her mother, all sung alternately in German, French and English. The effect is otherworldly. The stoic “Won’t Let You Break Me” is a rousing rock anthem worthy of Patti Smith’s late ’80s work. The closer, “Going Home”, completes the Odyssean narrative of the traveler seeking home and love and self. All in all, Sabina covers quite a lot of territory with an impressive debut in a new direction.

Purchase: Bar/None Records / Amazon

About Jim Simpson

Jim Simpson is an award-winning fiction writer and freelance music critic. A native of the wilds of Florida's Gulf Coast, he now resides on the scruffy fringes of Atlanta, Georgia. He frequently writes about music, with his taste spanning all genres: Bluegrass, Americana, Classic Country, Alternative Country, Western Swing, Blues, Classical, Rock 'n' Roll, Punk, Reggae, Klezmer, and British Isles Folk (to name but a few). He once sang Happy Birthday (with about 10,000 other people) to Joni Mitchell, and has seen such legends as Miles Davis, The Incredible Jimmy Smith, Rockpile, Blue Rodeo, King Sunny Ade, David Bowie, Joan Jett, Robyn Hitchcock, R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash and Bob Dylan live in concert. He has interviewed Those Darlins, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, Marshall Chapman, Charlie Louvin, Derek Hoke, Jim Avett, the Secret Sisters, and Meghan McCormick. Jim has written for Awaiting the Flood, Country Music Pride, Atlanta Music Guide, The Nervous Breakdown, Hellbomb, The Weeklings, and The Book Shopper. He has been at work on his first novel for longer than he originally planned. If all goes well it should be in bookstores sometime before his death.