A nearly new regular column in which freaky Peter Kearns casts a spell on a bunch of new album releases! You’ll wake up screaming!
AFTER READING ABOUT the Tom Petty/Sam Smith ‘I Won’t Back Down’/Stay With Me’ resemblance debacle, I checked out the song in question. The eight melody notes in question are the same, but the middle chord of three that moves beneath them differs. But chord patterns are not copyright-able, otherwise all blues songs would be plagiarizing thousands of others. It’s not like ‘I Won’t Back Down’ was unique to begin with, bearing as it does, like thousands of other songs, an uncanny resemblance to ‘Three Blind Mice’. This kind of thing has happened before. In 1970, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ borrowed the melody of The Chiffons’ 1963 hit ‘He’s So Fine’ virtually all the way through. Six years later, Harrison was found to have ‘subconsciously plagiarized’ the Ronald Mack-written song. That case was justified, which is more than can be said for some recent cases which, at least to me, appear to be more about the dreaded dollar. But let’s get to the good juju, starting with three albums of legally identical covers.
DIANA KRALL – Wallflower (Canada) (Verve)
This time around, Diana Krall moves from jazz-inflected standards to classic pop songs, along with a few obscurities, sung exceptionally well and set to a basic rhythm section accompanied by string orchestra (Or is it the other way around?). Krall digs deep enough with this material, you’d believe she wrote it herself. There’s a circumspection in her delivery and the songs have been selected suitably – ‘California Dreamin’, ‘I’m Not in Love’ and ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ among them.
The performance of the old Gilbert O’Sullivan pearler ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ as a duet is perplexing – the presence of Michael Buble seeming unnecessary. This track tips proceedings too far into sentimentality. The last verse’s reference to parental death always worked as a soliloquy, but dividing up the two singers, as if having a conversation referring to a parent each, is too much for my corn radar. That’s a matter of taste, but it’s a solitary lyric that’s had the duality squeezed into it.
More substantial is Krall’s rendering of Paul McCartney’s Kisses On The Bottom offcut, ‘If I Take You Home Tonight’. Similarly effective is another duet (this time with Bryan Adams), ‘Feels Like Home’, originally sung by Bonnie Raitt in Randy Newman’s 1996 musical, Faust.
The album is cohesive enough, and the instrumentation and vocal delivery so consistent as to suggest this collection is the work of a most enduring and particularly gifted singer/songwriter. Despite the potential corporate expectations of the art-versus-commerce pop-covers/duets recipe, all integrity remains intact. The lack of dance rhythms coupled with the simmering intellect that Krall’s recordings project, leave me in no fear that she might whip off the lab coat at any moment. A-
BETTYE LAVETTE – Worthy (Soul-R&B/USA) (Cherry Red)
One particular strength of LA producer Joe Henry is his resounding ability to take a ‘legacy’ act (for want of a better term) and output them as sounding more relevant than the favourite hipster darlings of the most deferential critics. Amongst the collected covers is Henry’s own classic ‘Stop’, which you may recognise from the version mangled by Madonna, chewed and spat out in the year 2000 as the hit ‘Don’t Tell Me’. But the grandest moment here is Lavette’s smoky interpretation of The Beatles’ ‘Wait’. Hardly Rubber Soul’s finest moment, the true beauty hidden in the once jaunty piece is now laid bare for all to hear. Not to mention Bettye herself now being exposed to a wider and much-deserved audience. B+
This outstanding debut from the Carolina Chocolate Drops member sees her delivering a selection of covers from writers as diverse as Charles Aznavour and Dolly Parton. Beneath lead vocals featuring more than an echo of folk singer Joan Baez, producer T-Bone Burnett takes his band of guns to town. Musicians include the Section Quartet cellist Richard Dodd, two members of Punch Brothers, and the seemingly ubiquitous drummer/percussionist Jay Bellerose. Along the way, Burnett’s swampscapes unearth skeletal fossils of mid-20th century country story-tellers such as Marty Robbins and Jimmy Dean, making Tomorrow Is My Turn another enticing addition to T-Bone’s enduring and, quite frankly, addictive discography. Watch out for quicksand. A-
BJORK – Vulnicura (Alt-Electronic/Iceland) (One Little Indian)
Many of Bjork’s well-established lyrical themes and musical motifs remain on Vulnicura – a return to the heady strings and filters of the Homogenic days. The strings, though dominant, lack the dramatic tension of that record’s blinders like ‘Hunter’ and ‘Bachelorette’, and the electronics don’t take flight with anything quite like the volcanic urgency of ‘Joga’ or the gorgeous ‘Hyperballad’ from 1995’s Post. Oddly, the many present Homogenic ingredients are observed more like you’re spying them through a crack in a door, milling around relaxing before the show for real. One development appears to be Bjork experimenting with vocal technique on the bittersweet ‘Lionsong’. Has she been listening to some R&B? I guess she can’t take inspiration solely from her own oeuvre. B+
It’s terribly inconvenient to have to dive for the dictionary while listening to a record. It almost makes you feel stoopid. But in the case of Corey Dargel and his mathematically abusive and intellectually intimidating Ok It’s Not Ok, it’s well worth the effort. Also good for you physically, the polyrhythmic arrangements will exercise your dancing skills and truly test your multi-tasking abilities. This is a compositional feast fit for a fussy bastard of the highest order. You’ll feel like a girly swot by the time it’s over, but listening to it will make you smarter than you are now. A-
The idea of a series of solo piano pieces from this promising young British electronicist convinced me of the goodness these morsels would contain. Considering she’d so brazenly pushed the boat out, there had to be something in it. But what I found was a group of 13 tenuous improvisations bereft of imagination, showing little continuity besides an ascending complexity culminating in the proficiency of a layman. You might do this kind of thing for fun, but if something like Klavirni was all you could muster, you wouldn’t release it if you had good advice. Anyone attempting this would certainly be aware of precedents such as the fiendishly complex studies of Chopin or Ligeti, and the exceedingly beautiful improvisations of Keith Jarrett, all of which peer over your shoulder if you choose this road. In Emika’s defence, her wish was to record herself making up some tunes on her childhood piano. And though I prefer to assess something against what it attempts to be rather than what’s come before it in its field, I have no choice but to consider Klavirni in the context of the existing solo piano canon. Perhaps it wasn’t her intention to compete with all the above kerfuffle. If so, she succeeded. D+
At around 30 seconds into the first track, ‘Vortex’, I was transported back to Carpenter’s musical contribution to Christine – the 1983 movie he also directed. Carpenter’s compositions are good at capturing that running-on-the-spot feeling of being pursued and getting nowhere fast. In fact, the whole of Lost Themes reads as homage to Carpenter’s own movie soundtracks, this time jumping straight to soundtrack and skipping movie. My imagination had to provide the imagery for this brand new old-school mostly electronic and very rhythmic soundscape. And a pleasure it was. B+