Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Gregg Stewart - Twenty Sixteen (2017)

Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin

It’s scarcely possible to imagine a better collection of cover tunes than Gregg Stewart’s Twenty Sixteen. Gregg Stewart avoids one of the common pitfalls of the form by never opting for naked imitation – his re-interpretations of other people’s material truly reorganizes these songs to his specific vision while staying faithful to the guiding initial impulse that drove the writing of the songs. He, likewise, doesn’t go for the obvious songs in their respective oeuvres – it isn’t just for novelty factor, as well, because the selections show a wide knowledge of music that Stewart’s solo work and music with the band Stewboss doesn’t really hint at. He gets these performances over with an immense amount of charisma that never asks too much of the listeners. It varies enough too, from song to song, that Twenty Sixteen takes on more of a character than just being a concept cover album with songs from musicians who died in 2016. Instead, it becomes much more of a statement about who Gregg Stewart is.  

Some of the odder or more unusual choices on the album will be the certain attention grabbers. He opens Twenty Sixteen with Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” and turns it into a tighly swaying, simmering acoustic track with more playfulness and less slightly skewered need than we hear in the original. “Raspberry Beret” retains more overt similarities to the original version than many songs do on Twenty Sixteen and this stems in no small part from his decision to keep the song’s famous melody intact and delivered with exquisite delicacy. The unlikely pairing of Maurice White’s “Sing a Song” and Leon Russell’s “One More Love Song” certainly isn’t accidental and the juxtaposition of Earth, Wind, and Fire soul influences heard in the former with the bluesy southern charms of the latter makes for an unusually satisfying one two punch. He also opts for a run through of Gene Wilder’s signature musical number of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s “Pure Imagination”. It definitely has a much different sound than we hear from Wilder’s original, but Stewart’s choice to revamp it as an acoustic number is an ideal recasting.

Rather than opting for “White Rabbit” or “Somebody to Love”, Gregg Stewart pays tribute to the deaths of Jefferson Airplane guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Paul Kantner and the band’s original second singer Singe Anderson. In an eerie bit of coincidence, Kantner and Anderson died on the same day in 2016 and “High Flying Bird” is a sturdy acoustic driven number from the band’s pre-Grace Slick years that hangs together remarkably well in its new incarnation. Leonard Cohen’s “Leaving the Table” is another remarkable choice than goes with a song off his final studio album rather than mining the typical songs from his catalog for some predictable inspiration. “Starman”, one of David Bowie’s most beloved tunes, closes Twenty Sixteen with a remarkably faithful note that still keeps a lot of his character involved with Bowie’s hallmarks. This is much more than a first rate cover album; we get just as much of a sense about who he is after hearing this song that we do listening to any of his originals.  

Rejectionist Front - Evolve (2017)

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