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John Greaves - Songs CD (album) cover


John Greaves


Canterbury Scene

3.96 | 25 ratings

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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.

Walkscore | 4/5 |


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