Vocalist Sachal Vasandani and pianist Romain Collin introduced their neighborly musical partnership on 2021’s Midnight Shelter, a quiet and often ravishing collection of songs that emerged after the early months of sheltering in place. With several lovely if not always memorable originals mixed in with familiar songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, and Lennon/McCartney, the album sustained a meditative mood so intimate it felt like listening in on a murmured confession.
The duo casts a wider net songwise on its follow-up, Still Life, an evocatively titled project that captures the album’s time-suspended feel. Vasandani and Collin offer an original each with the former’s opening incantation “No More Tears” and the latter’s penultimate “How Could We Be,” a naked confession of vulnerability. With just about every piece delivered in the same deliberate tempo and calm emotional tone, the music’s impact can be lulling. Vasandani creates drama not with dynamic shifts or inflection but with the slightest pauses in his phrasing. It’s an approach that’s particularly effective in stripping away expectations from hits like Billie Eilish’s “I Love You” and Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew.” Elizabeth Cotten’s folk classic “Freight Train” gets a similar translation, while “I Can’t Make You Love Me” hews closely to Bonnie Raitt’s blueprint.
An unaffected crooner with a comforting, cool-toned tenor, Vasandani lets the songs sell themselves. Rather than creating arrangements or distinctive harmonic settings, Collin deploys his piano as a strolling confidant, sharing observations on the passing scene. On his own, he’s written and recorded ambitious works while creating music for film and dance. With Vasandani he’s relaxed and responsive, less a catalyst or conceptualist than a conversationalist.
The album closes with Peter Gabriel’s prayerful “Washing of the Water,” a plea for grace that Vasandani infuses with a hint of desperation.