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John Greaves - Songs CD (album) cover


John Greaves

Canterbury Scene

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 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.

Report this review (#76742)
Posted Sunday, April 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars John Greaves is probably most well known for his being part of HENRY COW, although he did play with NATIONAL HEALTH as well. This album evolved out of an idea he had to have a trained soprano sing a couple of his songs, namely "Swelling Valley" and "The Price We Pay". S'Ange turned out to be the perfect choice with her lovely soprano voice. So they did a demo of three tracks and then over the next couple of years the project developed and expanded until he wound up with 48 songs. John also wanted to record existing material with different voices. So this really is a combination of new and old (re-recorded) tracks. Greaves' first choice for a vocalist was Robert Wyatt who he knew already was a big fan of the song "Kew. Rhone." so he got Robert to sing that as well as "Gegenstand" and "Songs" which John says "might as well have been written for him". A marriage made in heaven if there ever was one. Greaves also thought Wyatt's vocals would contrast and compliment S'Ange's angelic voice rather well. He also got Kristoffer Blegvad to sing "Silence" which he had done for years in the eighties with John's band. John said he always enjoyed listening to Kristoffer sing that one. Greaves felt he needed another female voice and Caroline Loeb happened in one day and agreed to do it so John wrote 2 tracks for her to sing "Eccentric Waters" and "L'aise Aux Ex-Sans Trique". John himself sings The Green Fuse" which is my favourite. It's actually a Dylan Thomas poem that John was reading one day, and he said the music just leaped off the page, so he had to record it. Peter Blegvad wrote 5 of the tracks and I have to mention that Elton Dean guests playing sax. This really is a mature and special album that is just a pleasure to listen to.

"Old Kinderhook" is simply a short accordion led instrumental. "The Song" is a beautiful laid back song sung by Wyatt as bass, piano and acoutic guitar support. Kind of melancholic too. "Swelling Valley" gives us our first taste of S'Ange and her angelic voice. Another pastoral tune with Kristoffer adding backing vocals. Just gorgeous as piano and acoustic guitar help out. "The Green Fuse" features strummed guitar and piano with John's vocals. Why is this so emotional ? My favourite. "Kew. Rhone." is where Wyatt returns vocally. Piano, acoustic guitar and vibes early before we get a fuller sound after 1 1/2 minutes. "Eccentric Waters" opens with what sounds like a party with different people talking as accordion plays.Then Caroline comes in vocally as party sounds fade away.

"Silence" is my second favourite. Piano opens as Kristoffer comes in vocally. Another moving track. Acoustic guitar joins in followed by bass. Sax before 3 minutes then it turns dissonant. "The Price We Pay" features S'Ange again with Kristoffer backing up. Great combination. Piano and acoustic guitar help out. "L'aise Aux Ex-Sans Trique" has some enrgy and both Caroline and John singing. Good song with piano and accordion standing out. "Back Where We Began" is a top three track for me. Simply heart rending. S'Ange's vocals with piano are so tender and touching it's difficult to express. "Gegenstand" is experimental to open then Wyatt comes in along with percussion and acoustic guitar. Experimental sounds return as the contrasts continue. "Whatever That Is" is the humerous conclusion to the record. It opens with atmosphere that you can feel. Acoustic guitar and piano come in then sax. The humour comes from the angry rant that follows. Haha, so funny.

A special album that I treasure.

Report this review (#221508)
Posted Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Essential Greaves Album - very close to 5 stars!

John Greaves has produced solo albums since the late 1970s, although often sporadically. But with at least 16 solo albums, he has by now a long discography. He is not an easy composer to categorize, although there is perhaps a touch of melancholic vaudeville (or something) in all his work. He began with Henry Cow, playing bass on their first three albums, and then on National Health's two last (out of three) albums, as well as the joint Henry Cow/Slapp Happy album 'Desperate Straights'. It was while making the latter that he met Peter Blegvad, with whom he would make his (probably) most famous album 'Kew.Rhone'. While I really like that album, 'Songs' is my favourite Greaves album. While Kew.Rhone is highly inventive and original, it largely keeps the same sound and feel all the way through, and one needs to be in a particular mood for it. 'Songs', on the other hand, is highly varied, and yet flows very well from song to song, engulfing the listener in its warmth regardless of mood. On 'Songs', Greaves writes new songs while also re-interpreting a number of his older tunes, setting a pattern that would continue on many later albums. However, instead of having the same vocalists on every song, here Greaves invites a number of different vocalists to sing on the album, as well as himself. This further helps differentiate each track, giving each song a slightly different flavour and allowing the identify of each one to really emerge. Robert Wyatt is one of these guest vocalists, singing on three tracks, among them a re-interpretation of both the closing track ('Gegestand') and the title track, to his first album 'Kew.Rhone'. I must say this is just an amazing version of the song - the penultimate version in my opinion. Another Wyatt guest vocal is on Greave's 'The Song', a new song written for this album. And well, it is awesome. If Greaves could be said to have a signature song, this would be it (and 'Kew.Rhone' would have to be the runner-up). These are two exceptionally musical tunes, and Wyatt's presence elevates them even further, putting them among the best of the 'Canterbury' genre. But with only three guest vocals, Wyatt does not dominate here. Greaves brings in three other singers to sing on a total of seven of the other tracks, while Greaves takes the helm on only two songs (including the excellent ''The Green Fuse', with lyrics drawn from a poem by Dylan Thomas). Susan S'Ange Belling adds quasi-operatic vocals on three tracks, including a re-interpretation of the 'The Price We Pay' originally from Greaves' 'Parrot Fashions' album, while Kristoffer Blegvad (younger brother of Peter, with whom Greaves has written a number of songs, including those on Kew.Rhone) co-sings on three tracks. While the music, with instrumentation leaning on acoustic guitar, piano, and accordion, is largely subdued and sombre, it is also highly innovative with ethereal electric guitar additions by David Cunningham and the occasional saxello by (of course) Elton Dean, with the instrumentation changing from song to song. Yet each track builds on the previous one, and you just don't want to turn this album off. While I could highlight my favourite tracks (in addition to the Wyatt version of "Kew.Rhone" and Greaves' classic "The Song", for me these would include "The Green Fuse", "The Silence" and "Back Where We Began"), in reality every single track here is excellent and everyone will probably choose a different favourite. If anyone has not yet heard John Greaves solo music, this is the album I would recommend you start with - it is really high quality, warm, and often beautiful. I give this album 8.8 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which is very very close to 5 stars.

Report this review (#1854462)
Posted Friday, January 5, 2018 | Review Permalink

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