In its late-1990s heyday, the British band Morcheeba was linked gorgeously to the sensual vocals of Skye Edwards.
On their 1996 debut, "Who Can You Trust?," and the 1998 follow-up, "Big Calm," Edwards' sultry cadence stood atop the trademark lounge beats of group co-founders Ross and Paul Godfrey in a way that set them apart from such trip-hop counterparts as Portishead and Massive Attack.
While their de facto frontwoman split with the group after their 2002 release "Charango," Ross Godfrey maintains that a reunion was never ruled out. "We always knew that we were going to make another record together," he said, "but it was just waiting for everybody to be in sync."
Last year's "Blood Like Lemonade" marked Edwards' return to Morcheeba. During the band's seven-year break, she released two solo albums. The Godfrey brothers kept the project alive in the interim with two albums and a parade of contributing vocalists, but Edwards' stand-ins failed to match her seductive swagger behind the microphone.
The origins of the group's original schism remain a bit obscure. Ross Godfrey speaks nonchalantly of the affair, citing creative differences along with Edwards' interest in a solo career. She, however, has been more vocal about the initial dissolution.
"We sort of had a divorce," Edwards said in an interview with the Washington Post earlier this month. "It [was] like the breakdown of any relationship. People [were] hurt."
Regardless, time seems to have healed any wounds from the initial separation. The group has been collaborating on new material since 2009, and Ross Godfrey is enthused about the reconciliation -- one that arrived with newfound collaboration.
"One thing that was important for all of us, especially Skye, was that she wanted to be involved with the whole record," he said. "She didn't want us to just make an album and then try to get her to sing a few tracks on it."
The group agenda shows on "Blood Like Lemonade." Edwards' vocals are not simple accents to the Godfrey brothers' smooth styling. The album opener, "Crimson," actually underplays the group's subtle mixing techniques, allowing the vocals to carry the track. It is one of many moments on their latest record in which Edwards howls with a newfound bravery.
"She's much stronger as a vocalist, very confident," Godfrey said. "When we first worked with Skye, she didn't really want to be a singer at all, and she used to whisper into the microphone."
The record also finds the two brothers dabbling into less pristine realms of samples and manipulation. Tracks like "Mandala" are carried by heavy blues twangs and folk strings, respectively.
"Since I was a little boy, my dad used to play me old blues records," Godfrey said. "I've been a bit of a rhythm and blues and old delta blues obsessive since I was a kid."
Regardless of their triumphant return to LP form, one has to wonder whether the reunited trio will be able to build upon their ambient records in a live setting. If nothing else, the group has been enjoying the experience once again -- something that seems to stem from an industry culture change.
"Touring has become a very popular activity again for bands," Godfrey said. "Bands used to really hate going on the road, and now I think they like it because that's where their income comes from."
The group last performed in the Twin Cities in support of its 2008 release, "Dive Deep," bringing a collection of guest vocalists. Between a revitalized enjoyment of the live experience and Edwards' enhanced vocal fervor, Wednesday night's show at First Avenue will likely be an elating experience for their lovelorn fans.
"I think they're probably the best shows we've done as a band," Godfrey said. "It's either that or I've drunk too much tequila."
Andrew Penkalski is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.