Galway born Sandra Coffey’s career has slowly been gaining momentum in the last few years. A powerful voice made even more robust due to classical training as a soprano is the defining feature of Coffey’s debut album; Morning Zoo. Far from being a classical singer in the taut uncompromising sense of the word, Coffey instead dedicates this album to blending sixties era soul with her larger than life operatic voice. While this attempt isn’t entirely successful, it certainly singles out Coffey as a unique artist in Ireland’s music scene.
Coming in at a brisk 33 minutes, Morning Zoo is an album that does not need a multitude of songs to put across its themes and ideas. ‘Baby Leave a Light on For Me’ is one of the standout tracks on the album. Dylanesque and a definite toe-tapper, Coffey’s voice takes on a Buffy Sainte-Marie quality which marries well with the sixties feel in the bones of the song. The song builds up to a rollicking climax with perfect cohesion between string section and vocals. The resulting sing-a-long effect makes this song a good addition to any driving playlist.
The other standout track on the record is ‘Hot Water Bottle’. Despite the slightly cringe-worthy lyrics (admittedly in keeping with the 60’s mood), this is the track which allows the true power of Coffey’s voice to shine through. Slower in pace from the rest of the album, ‘Hot Water Bottle’ is simple, elegant and uncomplicated. The listener gets the full unrushed and uninterrupted quality of Coffey’s frequent vibratos during this song; the measured and unhurried tempo gives the necessary space to her expansive voice. With sparse piano accompaniment and a classic, unfussy vocal line, this is Coffey at her best. At other times during the album, the classical voice has difficulty blending in to the 60’s alt-rock thrust of the record.
Leaving Coffey’s voice aside for one moment, due attention must be given to her accompanying band. Unfailingly brilliant, the background musicians are versatile, diverse and deserving of more room to shine. Between highly polished string sections and raw harmonica solos (also, the guitar solo in ‘Silhouette’ definitely deserves a mention), this group of musicians are easily capable of handling any and all styles and genres.
Overall, Morning Zoo is quite a disappointing and unassured debut. Coffey is clearly a gifted vocalist with a real flair for the slower and more theatrical songs. Her accompanying band is truly excellent with some exceptionally talented musicians in the mix, the cellist and guitarist especially. However, her stylistic choices in blending soul, alternative rock and a classically trained voice results in a bewildering album which, at times, is more jarring than enjoyable. However, given Coffey’s obvious talent, and the confidence with which she approached this record, it won’t be long before she finds her feet creatively speaking. All in all, a dissatisfying but promising debut; Sandra Coffey is still one to watch.