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John Greaves - Piacenza CD (album) cover


John Greaves

Canterbury Scene

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3 stars John Greave's latest album is an archive of his solo live concert at the main theatre in medieval Piacenza, Italy. Quite different from most of the music here on PA, this is a mature intimate affair, with John sitting at the acoustic piano and singing, although he is joined by Annie Barbazza and Paola Tagliaferro on backing vocals on the final track of the concert - his career-defining 'The Song' from his 1993 album 'Songs'. Despite his age, John's voice remains pretty decent here, although it is better here on the English-language tracks that the two sung in French (originally sung with others where they first appear on the studio albums), and this being a live performance he does occasionally go out of tune. Throughout his career, John has typically written the music while his collaborators write the lyrics, or he has set poems to music, including his excellent trilogy of albums dedicated to the poetry of Paul Verlaine. Also, many of his albums have contained both new music interspersed with re-interpretations of his older tunes. This album fits that pattern. Among others, here he includes solo versions of 'The Price We Pay' (from his 'Parrot Fashions' album), 'Earthly Powers' (from his album 'The Caretaker'), 'Bad Alchemy' from the Henry Cow/Slappy Happy album 'Desperate Straights', two songs 'La Lune Blanche' and 'Chanson d'Automne' from the first 'Verlaine' album, 'Green Fuse' and 'The Song' from his album 'Songs', and the title track from his album 'The Trouble with Happiness'. Of the older/cover tracks, a couple really stand out. The timeless and romantic 'How Beautiful You Are', originally written by Greaves and Peter Blegvad is a really beautiful song, just wonderful, and it works well in this setting (this appears on a number of his other albums, but I think this is one of the best versions). His 'The Song' is once again brilliant, with the backup singing nicely bringing the concert to a close on an emotional high. Meanwhile, fans of Greaves and Blegvad's excellent album 'Kew.Rhone' may be shocked to hear his version of the title track to that album here. Greaves builds up to a manic version, adding new words to the second half which makes the listener call into question the meaning of the original lyrics. Greaves ends the album with a recording of Robert Wyatt's 'Sea Song', recorded during rehearsal (not played in the concert itself) duetting with Annie Barbazza. I, of course, love this song, and this version is a welcome addition to the archive of Sea Song covers. Again, beautiful is an apt description. Meanwhile, there are new songs here too. 'Summer on Ice' is my favourite of these, a fantastic emotional track (perfectly following his older 'The Price We Pay'). He also wrote new music to Blegvad's 'The Thunderthief', a song which John Paul Jones (of Led Zeppelin fame) also wrote music to (found on Jones' album of the same name), but with a totally different feel. I don't like the JPJ tune, but I really like Greaves' version here, and 'The Same Things' is also a great track. All in all, this is for me quite a satisfying album. It is not brilliant - it is not going to rock anyone's world, and if you are looking to get into John Greaves' music, I would not start with this one (and for some of the older songs, there are better versions on the studio albums). But for those familiar with his music over the years, this is a generally positive listening experience. I give this album 6.9 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars.
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Posted Tuesday, December 26, 2017 | Review Permalink

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