Dexys - 'Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul', a (belated) review.

‘Let The Record Show…’ was suitably announced on St. Patricks day this year and follows hot on the heels (four years, dwarfing the previous gap of 27 years) of the unanimously praised comeback LP ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’. It’s only the seventh album from Kevin Rowland in the thirty-five years since and including the first and is the second comprised fully of cover versions. The first, 1999’s solo ‘My Beauty’ was explained by Kevin as being not a covers album, but an album of his take on some of his favourite songs. It was panned, reputably sold less than a thousand copies and remains out of print. This new album has also been proclaimed not an album of cover versions, but a loosely themed album of recordings of other people’s songs in Dexys own unique style. So should alarm bells be ringing? No way. ‘My Beauty’ had its charms and was unfairly panned, and this is quality throughout. But inspired? Let’s see…

At heart this an easy listening album, it’s pleasant and straightforwardly arranged, wonderfully crooned in places. It’s the sort of album that back in 1980 most Dexys (Midnight Runners) fans would have ran from. Yet, it is, as with most of Rowlands and Dexys recordings undeniably informed by punk, a movement with which Kevin flirted (The Killjoys) and which certainly enabled his unique vision and attitude a place in a business that previously wouldn’t have allowed him in. As always with Dexys personnel evolves album to album, ‘One Day…’s main collaborator, one-time Style Councillor Mick Talbot the most notable absentee, though Helen O’Hara, Kevin’s chief partner in crime from ‘Too Rye Aye’ through too ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ makes an appearance and has performed on recent promotional activities with the band. At least three of the songs here were planned for an 84/85 Dexys album of the same title that never happened, so there is a passion and a belief in these songs that shines through.

Vocally when Kevin sings he nails it. But he doesn’t always sing through this album, some tracks having an almost spoken, certainly intoned vocal track. For me this simply doesn’t work. I want to hear Rowland sing, he's quite simply one of the most inspirational vocalists in popular music ever. So ok, he’s a much older man now (we all are) but does he do enough on this album? Opener ‘Women of Ireland’ is basically an instrumental. You can’t go wrong with the Bee Gee’s ‘To Love Somebody’ and Dexys lay down a great version here, covering both the intoned vocal in the verses and the crooned vocal in the chorus. Even some of the pop songs here date back much further though, ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ first appeared in 1933 and carries possibly the most soulful vocal here. Some of the Irish on the album goes back much further, some having roots in poetry and the 1700’s, though some comes from more modern sources such as Phil Coulter.

Other pop (Country/Soul) covers include Rod Stewart (‘You Wear It Well’), LeAnn Rimes (Diane Warrens ‘How Do I Live’), Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’) and Johnny Cash (’40 Shades of Green’). It’s a bit odd in fact to hear Dexys do a fairly straight guitar led version of a Rod Stewart song, but then again as someone who’s familiar with ‘My Beauty’ there’s nothing odd about Dexys when you expect the unexpected. ‘How Do I Live’ might also seem an odd choice but again remember on his previous ‘covers’ project we also got songs such as the George Benson and Whitney Houston classic ‘The Greatest Love of All’, ‘I believe the children are our future’ etc.

Also, not wishing to sound like a man who works in a hi-fi store, which I undoubtedly am, but if you do listen to this album you have to do so on a half decent system. A car stereo or MP3 simply doesn’t carry the feeling. Listening to it as I am writing this my previous grumbles about semi intoned vocals actually feel a little redundant. So sorry about that! The most soulful sounding track is without doubt ‘Grazing in The Grass’ a cover of a 1969 pop and R&B hit from Friends of Distinction, though the song typically has a fairly complicated backstory, coming from the late 60’s Jazz scene and reputably originally about the smoking of marijuana..

So in short, this a mixed bag. It generally works very well, but Dexys 2016 are fairly much an acquired taste, the days of chart topping anthems long gone (though this album did enter the UK charts at no.10), and it’s comforting to know or at least feel that nothing will come out under the name of Dexys that is in any way questionable as far as quality goes. Is it inspired? For me no, it’s not the joy ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’ was, and as such I eagerly wait and hope for at least one more Dexys collection of originals. It is definitely worth investigating if you’ve ever had an interest in any of Rowlands earlier works. However, I am left a little confused by this strange mix of eclectic songs performed in a way that never threatens or challenges but yet that is still informed by punk and the past. And the packaging and vision is as always with Dexys superb too, a deluxe edition has a great film about the album and some interesting though superfluous instrumental and solo vocal versions of the songs. And it is Dexys, still making and releasing music in 2016. Which for me is enough anyway.


Cat's Eyes - Treasure House, a review

Not many bands can claim to have made their live debut at the Vatican in front of several eminent cardinals, performing as part of a mass at a ceremony there. In fact, quite possibly only Cat’s Eyes can claim this. Formed by the front man of The Horrors, Faris Badwan and his friend, vocalist (including opera), multi-instrumentalist and composer Rachel Zeffira in 2010, ‘Treasure House’ is their 2nd album proper though it does follow on from last year’s well received ‘The Duke of Burgundy’ soundtrack.

cat's eyes treasure house

The two began working together as a result of Badwan introducing Zeffira to the sound of 60’s girl groups and the production of Joe Meek amongst others, and this was evident on the first album, 2011’s ‘Cat’s Eyes’. These influences are if anything even more evident here, though boosted by an accompanying orchestral score reminiscent of Scott Walkers 60’s masterpieces. Though opener and title track ‘treasure House’ has a feel of the Syd Barrett’s about it, particularly in Badwan’s vocal. ‘Drag’ is a sweet sounding song with a typical Zeffira vocal that maybe describes the pairs relationship, ‘Oh the things we do when we’re together, If they ever knew they would keep us apart’. ‘Chameleon Queen’ is another bittersweet love song as Faris rejects his girls attempts at a reconciliation. A floating horn motif underpins the understated croon (Faris is not a crooner in the aforementioned Walker league but he’s pretty able here) though this lilting number is blown apart by the scorching 60’s beat proto punk of ‘Be Careful Where You Park Your Car’ and a perfect riposte from Zeffira from her mans rejections in the previous song. ‘Standoff’ with Badwan back on lead is the closest thing here to the Horrors and more modern sounding that what has preceded it though still with a knowing nod to the past. It’s urgent, spiky, a drum driven beat song that is the standoff of the situation described in the last two songs. The album is moving with pace, and Zeffira moves back to centre stage with ‘Everything Moves Towards the Sun’ as she looks back to her youth in Canada with an expression of a wish to share that part of her life with a friend or a partner. It’s pictorial, deft and slides the album towards its second half effortlessly and with consummate quality.

‘The Missing Hour’ finds Badwan back on lead, his developing croon growing in confidence. The background synths evoke bagpipes before the orchestration washes over the whole piece, a song about the clarity that the early hours can bring as night turns to day. ‘Girl in The Room’ finds Zeffira singing of lost beauty and past glories over a signature 60’s string arrangement and firmly strummed guitar. The following ‘We’ll Be Waiting’ suggest there is a loss of life on the way too, a hymnal organ sweeping in though there is comfort in the words ‘Don’t turn, don’t look around, Don’t turn away, We’ll be waiting for you’. The story continues on into ‘Names On the Mountains; as the departed pleads not to be forgotten, the rugged Canadian countryside is drawn again, though the organ that underpins this song is far jauntier than its predecessor even if it’s subject is not. The short lyric for the closing ‘Teardrops’ offers little hope, repeating in its twelve lines the couplet ‘Don’t you know, You’re Always on your own’ at the end of each short stanza. Zeffira handles this closing vocal too, the first time the album has carried a lead vocalist over from one track to another, suggesting maybe the story comes more from her that Badwan maybe?

There is a definite feel of a song cycle here, a life/love cycle, hard to pull a message out though for me it seems to be not to waste the time we are given here on earth and to follow your heart as you only get one shot at this thing called life. The eleven tracks here barely scrape past the thirty-five-minute mark, yet if you appreciate melancholy sixties pop and have stuck with the Horrors as their sound has changed over the course of four startling albums then I’d recommend you investigate ‘Treasure House’. It’s a gem.