Stuffography Kate St. John: Second Sight


Kate St. John: Second Sight

Thirsty Ear Recordings 1997


by Maik

This review is something of a footnote, I guess, to my Radio Silence and Radio London reviews, in that it looks at yet another English-language recording by BG. In fact, however, it's not an album review at all, but rather a one-song review, and a look at the subtle, mysterious role of Kate St. John in recent-vintage Aquarium.

Who is this Kate? She first shows up as co-producer of Navigator, possibly having made non-credited musical contributions to the album as well. She's more prominent on Snow Lion, where she also co-produces, in addition to providing disembodied vocals on "Silver Rose," doo-wop vocals on "Maxim the Forester," and other vocal and woodwind contributions scattered throughout the album. Most recently, she appeared on Psi, playing sax on one track.

How Boris met Kate St. John, I don't know. I asked him once, and got the impression they'd been introduced through the London recording engineers, Jerry Boys. The three Aquarium albums she appears on were all recorded in England. Maybe she and Boris had a thing going on. That's between them; for our purposes, it's enough to say they are close friends. BG also calls her a "spiritual member" of Aquarium.

Kate is best known for her contributions to the mid-80's group Dream Academy. Remember the Brit-pop single, "Life in a Northern Town"? That was Kate's psychedelic oboe solo and "hey now now now" vocals. Her woodwind, vocal and production skills also figure in the studio work of many other artists, most notably Van Morrison and Roger Eno. Second Sight (1997) is her second solo album, filled with Enya-like New Age and light-classical arrangements and French chanteuse pop. It's not particularly good. She sings in a waifish, off-key lilt, kind of like Suzanne Vega, but without Vega's charm and emotion.

Her collaboration with BG is "Flicker of Gold," a world-weary duet sung in French musette mode; lots of lovely accordion, and Boris sings well. The Snow Lion-era members of Aquarium are all present and accounted for on the track; no other musicians (other than Kate) are present. Perhaps I'm biased (yeah, I definitely am), but I think this is the best track on the album. In fact, it doesn't really seem to belong on this album at all; it stands out like a red salyotka. The song belongs on Snow Lion, and it should have been included on Snow Lion. It's that good. But is it worth buying a whole Kate St. John album for? Well, yeah, in the same sense that it's worth buying Radio London for "Promises of Eden." It's a very good Aquarium track that has no other home.