Paris Motel is the band/ensemble of singer and multi-instrumentalist Amy May. They sound like… well, imagine Kirsty MacColl fronting The Divine Comedyand you start to get an idea. But I don’t want to take that comparison too far, because that would undermine the distinctiveness of May’s own vision.

To explain the title and idea of the album, I’ll quote directly from a blog post by Amy May:

The Salpetriere is a hospital in Paris where they used to keep ‘undesirable’ women in the 18th and 19th century – madwomen, prostitutes, epileptics, paupers and unmarried mothers ended up there. I’m using the idea of the hospital as a metaphor for the collection of songs about extraordinary, interesting women (who may or may not have been mad, depending on your point of view).

Now, I already knew about this theme before I started listening to the album; but what often happens with me and story-based songs is that I don’t pick up all the details of the stories — and that’s what mostly happened here, too. Fortunately, that’s not disastrous, because there is still much to love about In the Salpêtrière: the music itself is lush, and Amy May’s vocal style is great, ‘classical’ but leavened with just enough of a London twang.

Singling out individual tracks seems almost unnecessary when the whole album is so impressive, but let’s have a go. ‘After Wanda’ starts out quite stately, and builds to a wonderful climax. ‘Three Steps’ is an epic sea shanty; and ‘Stockholm: The Art of Forgetting’ deftly combines a jauntier rhythm with a choral interlude. But the whole album is glorious, and highly recommended.