[continued from previous post]
Next, Mari’s version of “In Private” showed that there was not just 60s material in her sights. The 1990 single was from the period where Dusty Springfield was working with Pet Shop Boys, who penned this tune, and while the song was up to the normal high standard of Tennant + Lowe, I much prefer the arrangement to this version. The original seemed stodgy in comparison. The rhythm programming here had a spring in its step [the congas were a nice touch] and the syncopation between it and the keys of Mr. Gavin really managed to lend the song some much-needed swing for the first time. The new outro also evidenced more verve than the original’s simple fadeout. This marked two Dusty Springfield songs in a row that had a new home as far as I was concerned.
I didn’t recognize the title of “White Horses,” but once it played through, there was something very familiar about the pretty melody. I must have heard one of the many versions floating out there over the years, thought I can’t put my finger on where or when. This one had a lazy summer’s day feel to it that almost attained a tropical feel with the slow, arcing guitar chords which complemented the gentle acoustic strumming that grounded the song. I also like how the foley effects of the train station lent this somewhat adolescent song [candyfloss was invoked in the lyrics] some frissons of adult escape to color the meaning in Ms. Wilson’s hands. Details like this revealed the depth of the intentions in carrying out this project.
As ever, the magnificent “Anyone Who Had A Heart” shone here as a keyboard led ballad. The purity of Ms. Wilson’s vocals on the heart-tugging outro had her floating like a kite over the drama of the arrangement. This was followed by the more surprising version of “I Close Me Eyes And Count To Ten” that began with some unexpected vocoder that heralded the song’s countdown and set a dark tone for this tune. While the song was typically a melodramatic examination of emotional paranoia, the brassiness that the song usually delivered undercut the ambiguity of its sentiment. Here, Gavin’s minimal clockwork electro arrangement managed to accentuate the insecurity that was the song’s crux. I absolutely love the moment in the chorus following the middle eight where Ms. Wilson engages in what is for her, rare melisma that offsets the meter of the chorus, further indicating that all may not be well. This was another cut here that was spiritually connected with the B.E.F. album “Dark.” It’s very satisfying to hear another artist exploring that approach to a cover song. Impressive.
The last Bacharach/David number here was “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” and the more florid and operatic Dusty version was increased in intimacy here, being led instead by subtle, Fender Rhodes piano and minimal, heartbeat rhythm. Mari’s ad-libs on the fade suggested that this song of defeat and defiance just might have a hopeful outcome for a change. The album ended with one more Dusty Springfield song, albeit one that probably isn’t known by most Americans, as “Island of Dreams” dated from the earliest part of that singer’s career with her brother in The Springfields. As such, the song was the one fully unknown quantity here for me. As performed here, it was almost a lullaby with just gentle music box accompaniment for Ms. Wilson’s voice. Then, at the song’s two minute mark, it moved into ghostly dub space with swelling string patches and Mari’s multi-tracked harmonies before fading away into nothing. Echoing the brief fade-in of this song that the album had begun with.
As the cover album became commonplace in the last 25 years, it quickly became devalued currency for my ears. I’d go as far as saying that it soon became an empty cliché, so having such an album delivered with some care and artistry is always appreciated. In the right hands, an album of covers can be an invigorating exercise where the freedom from writing allows many other artistic muscles to get the workout that doesn’t always happen when the heavy lifting of songwriting dominates the proceedings. In such cases, the artist can look to intention and interpretation to provide the artistry in the end product, as Wilson and Gavin have done here. We all know that Mari Wilson can sing like a bird. Aren’t we lucky that she isn’t content to leave it at that?
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