Sunday, June 3, 2012


It might seem like an awfully quick time between albums for this new English singer, but that's only because her debut was delayed by over a year for release here, coming out just after Christmas here.  That excellent disc made a few ripples here, but home in Britain she's already a star.  The jury is out whether she'll find a big following for her retro-smooth pop here.

For her second disc, Rumer has chosen an ambitious project.  She wanted to tackle vintage songs by male songwriters, largely about their sensitive side.  She was out to prove the point that boys indeed do cry, and have a deep well of emotion.  So this time, it was all covers, a brave choice in a pop world that still insists you have to write your own to be taken seriously.  Since she wrote a bunch of fine ones on her first disc, the point should already be moot, but still, some will deem it too early for an all-covers collection.

Anyway, the project:  Great idea, faulty execution.  There's no denying the beauty of Rumer's voice, and her commitment to mellow pop from the 60's and 70's.  The thing is, there were thousands and thousands of songs to choose from.  It's the songs that don't quite match up.  Now, kudos for not picking the obvious examples, and largely staying away from well-known writers and hits.  But I don't quite know why the always-saccharine Paul Williams had to be here.  Same goes for a lesser-known Gilbert O'Sullivan song, We Will, not much of a choice.  And there are several that are stripped of any life.  Both Todd Rundgren's Be Nice To Me and Richie Havens' It Could Be The First Day are treated to bland arrangements and glossy productions.  There's certainly no drive for listeners to find the emotion here, which is the point of the disc.  I'd argue that at least half of the songs chosen simply aren't all that great to begin with, obscure or not.

When it works, it's great.  One of the few truly excellent examples of songwriting here is Townes Van Zandt's Flying Shoes, and she delivers a tremendous version, piano and harmonica the chief sounds, along with her aching vocal.  Jimmy Webb's tune P.F. Sloan, about the reclusive 60's songwriter, is another, as it's one with some oomph to it, plus a fine melody, and when she has that, Rumer soars.  That works for Isaac Hayes' Soulsville from the Shaft soundtrack, even though the lyrics are completely inappropriate both for her, and for this supposed-love song collection.

As for the really well-known stuff, hats off for a decent version of A Man Needs A Maid, and a passable Sara Smile (Hall & Oates), although it doesn't really cut the original, and it's nowhere near as soulful.  And not everything is sung in her Karen Carpenter-style.  That isn't good actually;  Bob Marley's Soul Rebel looses any connection to reggae, and just gets bland.  Worse still is Leon Russell's My Cricket, a lovely and mournful song he did as an old country number.  Rumer turns it into Patti Page singing Tennessee Waltz.  I like her voice so much I'm going to enjoy the ones I like here, and skip over the rest.  But unfortunately, this concept album didn't fly.

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