Nina Persson is a hitmaker of slick, sparkling, effusive, yet coolly evasive Swedish pop with the Cardigans. She would seem unlikely to turn her material, old and new (the recently released solo album Animal Heart), into soul-filled country jams with a scratchy edge to her usually clean voice. But that's what happened when Persson played World Café Live Sunday night.
With the night's romantic synth-pop opening act, White Prism, as her backing band, Persson waltzed through her last two decades of music. To this, she often applied the R&B/country lilt she has used on records by A Camp, her solo project that also involves her guitarist-husband, Nathan Larson, (of the band Shudder to Think). To a certain extent, her A Camp songs came across most clearly and crisply of all, with the likes of "I Can Buy You," "Charlie, Charlie," and the buoyant "Frequent Flyer," delivered in a film of dusty bluegrass and dirty country. Those Rust-Belt-inspired tunes were all the sexier for the grime. Persson gave each a seductive and soulful growl.
That same stirring country-soul vibe brought new solo album cuts - such as the curt "Animal Heart," the full-bodied "Forgot to Tell You," and the piano-poppy "Clip Your Wings" - from a simmer to a boil. Whereas the CD's production values tend to be clear and cold, in performance Persson and crew gave the tunes a much-needed scuffed-up feel.
When not busy dirtying up Persson's sound, White Prism was a delight. On songs such as "Graceless," Australian-born, part Hungarian singer/keyboardist Johanna Cranitch and Co. made live, drum-filled '80s synth-pop reminiscent of The The.