Donna Regina: A Collection of Little Secrets

A Collection Of Little Secrets compiles material from Donna Regina's catalogue—three songs from 1999's A Quiet Week in the House, five from 2002's Northern Classic, and seven(!) from last year's Late (including the hidden track “You Better Believe”)—on the premise that too few heard them the first time around. Which, naturally, begs the question that they deserve to be heard again, so ... do they? The answer is “Yes” because, despite some weaknesses, Cologne residents Regina and Günther Janssen fashion elegant three-minute pop songs of cinematic, melancholy, and romantic character that are relatively unique given current musical contexts. Regina handles vocal duties while husband Günther and third member Stefan Irlinger create rich instrumental settings of guitars, keyboards, drums, and vibes. Her lyrics deal with personal issues—fear, longing, mortality, love—yet the emotional qualities of the songs are contained by her delivery. She's a minimalist, content to sing the lines straight without adornment or ornamentation, and so, while her singing is attractive enough, it's diminished by its lack of emotional expressiveness. There's a strange disjunct between the sensuousness of her vocal tone and its uninflected, almost robotic delivery.

With the exception of “Let's Get Slow,” marred by a crude drum machine and a plodding tempo, the collection generally impresses, although the quality of the Late tracks overshadows the others. Two non-Late songs, however, open the set strongly. The seeming chug of a train engine cleverly morphs into a shuffle rhythm in “Why,” further distinguished by Hawaiian guitar and an enticing vocal melody, and “Star Ferry II” is sweet folk-pop with a light-hearted skipping beat. While “Aimes-Tu,” “Passer-by,” and “Driftwood” also stand out, the strongest Late tracks are the gorgeous title track, with its twangy 50s-style guitar, reggae-tinged rhythm, and stirring mandolins, and “Rain,” an endearing song about walking in the rain with a loved one. Admittedly, Regina 's lyrics often seem like adolescent musings but that's easier to overlook when the melodies exude such charm. A Collection Of Little Secrets obviously acts as an ideal introduction to listeners heretofore unfamiliar with the group.

October 2004