Saturday, September 1, 2007

John Greaves (with Robert Wyatt) - Songs (1995) [320kbps]

1. Old Kinderhook (1:06)
2. The Song (5:31)
3. Swelling Valley (3:42)
4. The Green Fuse (5:56)
5. Kew Rhône (5:26)
6. Eccentic Waters (2:04)
7. For Bearings/Silence (5:12)
8. The Price We Pay (3:08)
9. Liaise Aux Ex-sans-trique (5:41)
10. Back Where We Began (4:47)
11. Gegenstand ( 4:04)
John Greaves - Vocals (Tr.4,9), Accordion, Piano, Bass
Robert Wyatt - Vocals (Tr. 2,5,11), Percussion
Susan (S’Ange) Belling - Vocals (Tr. 3,8,10)
Kristoffer Blegvad - Vocals (Tr. 7)
Caroline Loeb - Vocals (Tr. 6,9)
François Ovide - Acoustic Guitar
Sophia Domancich - Piano
Paul Rogers - Double Bass

Elton Dean - Saxello
Mireille Bauer - Vibraphone
David Cunningham - Electric Guitar
Peter Kimberley - Backing Vocals
Benoit Blue Boy - Harmonica

John Greaves has always done his best work in collaboration, whether in his early days in the hyper-collaborative collective Henry Cow or later albums with the likes of Pip Pyle, Lisa Herman, and his primary collaborator, Peter Blegvad. On his fifth album, Songs, however, the parade of guest stars occasionally gets a bit overwhelming. It's more like a John Greaves tribute album than anything else! Working with a drummerless acoustic piano/bass/guitar trio starring French pianist Sophia Domancich, along with various guest musicians, Greaves runs through a program of older songs and a few new ones. He does none of the singing, leaving that to friends like Robert Wyatt (who contributes three vocals, including a stunning remake of "Kew. Rhone.") and Kristoffer Blegvad. This isn't a bad thing in itself (Wyatt and Blegvad are both stunning interpreters), but it does mean that some of Greaves' own personality is unfortunately missing from the album. Songs will be a treat for longtime fans, but newcomers are advised to start elsewhere first for the full effect. (AMG)

This is a good introduction to John Greaves' solo career and also stands up as an extremely strong album in its own right. It's almost entirely acoustic, and consists of reworkings of songs from earlier albums interspersed with some new material, with the assistance of an impressive roster of guest stars from the Canterbury scene. Greaves himself takes more of a back seat than usual - the core band for the sessions consisted of double bass, piano and acoustic guitar, the pianist and bassist playing parts that he previously played himself, although he does occasionally add his own accordion, bass and piano parts, and takes the lead vocal on some of the songs.

About half the songs are the product of his long standing collaboration with Peter Blegvad, including two from their masterpiece Kew.Rhone. These are both sung by Robert Wyatt, a longtime fan of the album. Kew.Rhone itself is interpreted beautifully, with Wyatt singing what were originally multiple vocal parts and making the song his own. The arrangement is clear and crisp, with Ovide's acoustic guitar filling in for the string parts and adding a new layer of melodic ingenuity. There's a particularly effective interlude where the three main players demonstrate a remarkable interplay, and they complement Wyatt's voice splendidly - it's hard to believe that the music and vocals weren't even recorded in the same country. Gegenstand sees Greaves' electric bass deployed alongside Rodger's acoustic double bass to great effect, with another haunting Wyatt vocal, and Robert Wyatt also sings The Song and adds some of his featherlight percussion elsewhere. Two immensely talented female vocalists, S'Ange and Caroline Loeb, add their own lustre to several of the songs. Eccentric Waters - "An Opera In 3 Acts and 2 Minutes" - is a particular highlight, while L'Aise aux Ex-Sans-Trique spins a beautiful 5 minute song out of the album's performing credits. Kristoffer Blegvad (brother of Peter) is a longtime Greaves collaborator and turns in a pleasing vocal on Silence and duets with S'Ange on Swelling Valley. Greaves himself takes the lead vocal on L'Aise aux Ex-Sans-Trique and The Green Fuse, which is a Dylan Thomas poem set to music. John Greaves' hommage to his Welsh roots is brilliantly realised - setting poetry to music is a risky business, but here it is done with intelligence, style and a genuine feel for the original verse.

Songs is a splendid album which repays careful and repeated listening. The older material is reinterpreted and arrranged in ways which add to the originals without making them redundant, and the new songs fit in nicely. Everything on here has great depth, subtlety and charm, and is recommended to any fan of Canterbury or the more melodic end of RIO/Avant prog. (



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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this beautiful piece of music!