25 May 2006

Mari Wilson - Dance With A Stranger


Mari Wilson is best - perhaps solely - remembered for her beehive hairdo and matching 60s kitsch sound on her one proper hit Just What I Always Wanted.

She followed it up with a cover of Julie London's jazzy ballad Cry Me A River (limited edition had a free hanky!), setting the course for this subtle and affecting version of Peggy Lee's Dance With A Stranger as the title song for the movie.

If it doesn't look like how you remember Mari Wilson on the cover, that's because it isn't. It's the movie's lead actor Miranda Richardson.

I saw Richardson outside Russell & Bromley's in Southport around this time, pretty soon after seeing Mike Score out of A Flock Of Seagulls outside a shoeshop in Liverpool's Church Street. What was it with me and minor celebrities adjacent to Merseyside footwear retailers in the mid 80s? Who knows?

Anyway, Richardson's familiar for being Queen Elizabeth in Blackadder II. A more different role is hard to imagine.

The film tells the tempestuous story of Ruth Ellis, last woman to be judicially hanged in the UK, and the violent relationship that culminated in her killing her boyfriend. Scripted by Shelagh Delaney of A Taste Of Honey fame, it's got that same unglossy sense of real lives that made her name, and Richardson's performance opposite Rupert Everett is superb.

Rather like Blue Velvet, they've taken a sweet contemporaneous song and made it eerie by juxtaposing it with a dark and troubling film. Once you know that, the recontextualising leaves a twist on the song forever. The song is all about meeting a stanger, it is light and full of understated tingle at the potential in meeting someone who makes you go all fuzzy inside. Yet you approach the film knowing the ensuing affair is brutal and ends horrifically. This provides the key element in most great pop music; to address simulataneous conflicting emotions.

Faithful to the 1951 original, Wilson's version is remarkably warm; this was the 80s, a time of such shiny digital sterility, yet this sounds so authentic that you could readily believe it was recorded any time in the last 50 years. Dreamy, soft, playful, intimate, seductive, but with an uneasiness lent to it by the film, it's a lost gem.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry! Post your email address in Comments if you'd like it emailed you]

15 May 2006

Jack Frost


Jack Frost was a chance happening, a duo of Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens and Steve Kilbey from The Church. Both eminent songwriters in their dayjob bands, they worked swiftly and easily together on this eponymous album. The drum machine on some tracks is dated, but there's a warmth, a mystery, an intricate and rustic evocative feel to the album that perpetually rewards me.

Five years later, they reconvened for the very different, much more rock second album Snow Job.

It's with sadness that I've been inspired to post these four tracks. Grant McLennan died in his sleep on May 6th, aged 48.

Steve Kilbey does a blog with an astonishingly disciplined daily posting policy. Unsurprisingly, several of them have been moving thoughts and memories of Grant.

I've picked four songs from the first Jack Frost album to post. Civil War Lament is astonishing, an almost music-box prettiness to it but with the melancholy heaped on by the lyric, from the perspective of a dead soldier watching from his grave as his beloved goes about her life.

Number Eleven is quite unsongy, an atmosphere hanging seething lightly like the mirages the lyric is set among.

Providence aches, melodic yet metronomic, resigned yet yearning.

Despite being the first song they wrote together, Didn't Know Where I Was shows the punchier direction of the second album better than any other on the debut. Snow Job is certainly a good record, but there's something rich and alluring on this first Jack Frost album, something deceptively simple, enigmatic, internal and yet present and unpretentious that always pulls me back, pulls me in further and yet is never fully revealed.

In one post, Kilbey talks about the album.

grant wasnt some minor talent now gone
and everyone trying to make him into something more
believe me, he was the real deal
he picked up a guitar and sang
and you hadda original
no mistaking his voice, his songs
i saw on amazon they gotta few copies of the 1st jack f record
do yerselves a favour
if you aint got it, get it
im so proud of that record

civil war lament
grant had already written this
i loved it and i got to sing it
he could knock songs like this off
like most people write shopping lists
i liked the ambiguity of
"and all you do is carry on"
to grant this meant that she continued
to me it had other connotations
we thrived on this kinda ambiguity

number 11
grant n i imagined we were lost in a plane crash
i know you can keep me warm
beautiful, grant, beautiful

one of my fave songs ever by anybody anywhere
obviously you can hear grants bits and my bits
so sad
so much sadness in this song
"remember when we were lovers, the things we used to do"
it always gives me goosebumps
so romantic,
so lost.

didnt know where i was
our 1st song we wrote together
sorta velvets-y i guess
" a damaged doomed charles bronson, stumbling on this earth"
who else could write stuff like that
boy, im gonna miss him

As with the death of any good artist, we mourn his passing but are grateful for the work he leaves behind. Thankyou Grant.

it was a fucking privelege to work with him
i loved this man
i will play providence and other jack f songs
till the day i day
and i hope that when i get to fucking heaven
grant is waiting for me
his guitar strapped on
"now, steven, are ya ready for our third album

[MP3s deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]