Friday, 22 June 2012

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers Vol 1

Inspired by the last Bangles album, I have been looking again at Susanna Hoffs’s extra curricula catalogue but this time with some foreboding.  I did this once before following The Bangles’ break-up in 1989 and bought her solo effort ‘When You’re a Boy’ but it didn’t do much for me, hence the slight anxiety.  But this time I have chanced upon her collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist, Matthew Sweet and this time it was worth the money.

Sweet and Hoffs, or Sid ‘n’ Susie as they are billing themselves, have tapped into their love of the 60s and 70s and created a series of ‘Under the Covers’ releases (two volumes to date).  Volume 1 spans the 1960s and mixes well known songs like ‘Monday Monday’ and ‘Alone Again Or’ with lesser known efforts from the big hitters of the day like the Beach Boys (‘The Warmth of the Sun’), The Zombies (‘Care of Cell 44’) and a killer version of The Beatles’ ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’.

The prickly subject of covers has been aired numerous times in this blog and it bears stating here that these are not deliberate re-workings of the original songs but more loving reconstructions, done with infinite care in a totally modern environment – no analogue and sticky tape here.  What really sets them apart from the blueprints is the vocal performances which are nothing short of awesome from both Ms Hoffs and Mr Sweet and despite having vocal tones at opposite ends of the scale they combine beautifully.  You can almost hear the fun they had doing these songs which are clearly close to their collective hearts.

Dare I say that Hoffs’ take on ‘Who Knows where the Time Goes’ is on a par with Sandy Denny’s original?  It works, yet somehow you don’t expect an American voice to gel with Fairport’s quintessentially English folk sound.  Sweet struggles a bit with the Wilson falsetto on ‘Warmth of the Sun’ but his rasping performance of Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is a great cut, as is his interpretation of The Who’s ‘The Kids are Alright’.  Let’s face it, this is not high art in the accepted sense but nor is it downmarket karaoke but something in between.  Mainly, it’s a fun record made by people with talent and a real love of their subject matter and one that I shall return to on a regular basis.

So with Volume 1 in the bag, I may well have to have a look at Volume 2 which majors on the 1970s.  I couldn’t resist having a listen to their take on a surprising choice of Yes’s ‘I’ve Seen All Good People/Your Move’, and am staggered to report that if Susanna Hoffs is not the next Yes singer, I’ll eat…something.  She really nails it.  Is there nothing she can’t sing?  And with Clapton’s ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and ‘You’re So Vain’ on the setlist, I don’t think I’ll be resisting for long.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee Concert

Well, it rained.  What did you expect? This is Britain after all.  At chez Music Obsessive we initially struck lucky whilst attending a Diamond Jubilee party on the Saturday with Kiwi neighbours and stayed dry despite a threatening, brooding sky but by the time we hosted our own tea party on Tuesday, it bucketed down requiring a smart move indoors where we all crushed together and got bunting tangled in our hair.

But now that we have put away the Union Jack tea-set ready for the next Royal event we can get down to the real business of this blog – the Diamond Jubilee Concert.  Designed to showcase the best of British over the last 60 years, it was typically British; bathed in nostalgia for lost glories, a bizarre mixture of the quite brilliant and the terribly naff, yet warm hearted and a mini-triumph against all odds.  Whilst you could quibble with the playlist, you can’t really argue with the likes of (Sirs) Cliff Richard, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones…oh and Robbie Williams although quite what Stevie Wonder was doing there, I’m not sure even he knew but when he did an awesome ‘Superstition’, I was past caring.  The stage, built around the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace was magnificent and the laser light projections onto the Palace itself were breath-taking, especially during Madness’s stint on the roof.

 I admit, I enjoyed it immensely but there was undoubtedly an elephant in the room, or on the stage, and that was voices.  I’m afraid to say that when singers reach their sixties, seventies and beyond, the voice diminishes and Cliff, Elton, Paul and even Annie Lennox all struggled.  Tom Jones fared better but even the great Shirley Bassey (and no one sings Bond themes like Shirl) has fallen victim to the ravages of time.  Sad but inevitable.

Of course, if you’re going to present the Best of British, one attribute that must be present and correct is outrageous eccentricity and one or two performers stepped up to the plate in grand style.  Annie Lennox and her entire band sported Angel Wings for her rendition of ‘There Must Be An Angel’ and honorary Brit, Kylie, did her hits medley clad in a sort of Pearly-Queen-on-Acid outfit.  But no one could compete with Grace Jones who hula-hooped without a hitch through the entire performance of ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ despite her oiled body and slippery-looking rubber-leotard-type costume complete with what looked like a giant orchid on her head.  Brilliant.

Another of my abiding memories of the evening will be when the TV cameras picked out the most Reverend Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the crowd and he was singing along to McCartney’s ‘All My Lovin’’ – and knew all the words. So much for the Devil and best tunes.  I’ve always thought that The Archbishop hides a secret musical past.  His sermon at the Jubilee Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral bordered on that of an aging hippy, all give-up-your-possessions and peace and love, maan.  Also, he lost no time adding fuel to my theory by referencing Ray Davies in his Sermon.  According to the Archbishop, Davies’ use of the word ‘dedicated’ in his seminal 60s tune, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ is not strictly correct.  I’ll bet Ray Davies, when he conceived the lyrics all those years ago, never envisaged having them picked apart by an Archbishop of Canterbury to a global audience at a Royal Event.

Still, makes you proud to be British.