“But it don’t snow here/It’s stays pretty green/I’m gonna make a lot of money/Then I’m gonna quit this crazy scene.”
Terry Callier died this weekend. I never really knew his work, but this duet with Beth Orton, covering Fred Neil’s “Dolphins,” remains one of my favorite recordings ever made; there’s something about his vocals in here, how comforting, how rich and warm they sound. Orton’s own vocals dance around Callier’s; he grounds the performance, and provides the world for her to return to.
I love “Dolphins,” as a song, but often find the performances from various artists to be disappointing. Even Neil’s original doesn’t sound quite “right,” somehow. There’s something about the interplay of Callier and Orton’s voices, about the folk/jazz accompaniment (Those vibes!) that backs them up, that fulfills the song’s potential as nothing else I’ve heard actually managed. Maybe I should hunt down Callier’s earlier catalog and see what other favorites he worked his magic on, as well.
For all that I will complain about William Orbit’s production on Blur’s 13 – and I will, just be glad I haven’t really started here – his involvement in “She Cries Your Name” almost absolves him of any aural sin in my book; the swooping strings, double bass and shuffling drums in this song gave Beth Orton’s solo career the best launchpad it could get, and a far more interesting surrounding than almost everything that appeared on the following album, Trailer Park. There’s a jazz influence at play in this song that matches and sounds wonderful next to Orton’s at-times-overwhelming folk meandering, giving the song a snap and drive that, judging by her other songs from the same period, it may have missed otherwise. If only Red Snapper had been her backing band for that first album…
This song – Something that feels so incredibly 1990s and 1960s to me at the same time, with Beth Orton’s vocals feeling like something from a random, half-remembered folk act in the New Folk movement of the latter decade, playing against the psychedelia-influenced “Big Beat” of the Chemical Brothers – reminds me of the final year of my BA degree, the fact that Dig Your Own Hole (the album this came from) was playing in all of the studios, all of us feeding our heads with the same noises and the same influences as we tried to finish our work and find inspiration to be ourselves on paper and canvas and clay and whatever. This and Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?; echoing out from different doorways at different stages as you’d walk down the corridors. One of those sense memories that you find yourself suddenly transported by, without meaning to be.
I first saw Beth Orton back when she was singing with Red Snapper, way back in the mid 1990s, and I remember very, very clearly leaving the venue and she was standing outside, leaning against a car smoking and me just completely being smitten by her in that moment, as random as that may sound. It was that memory, that smittenness, that led me to pick up her first single and album and become as equally – if not more – smitten with her folk revival sound than the way she looked post-gig, grumpy and trying to ignore the crowds wandering past her in a cold Glasgow alleyway. It’s not that she was doing anything particularly special or original, but just the sound of her voice and simplicity of her arrangements that sounded especially fresh in the dying days of Britpop. “It’s Not The Spotlight” shows off what I liked best about her output at that time – the covers that stripped back brassier pop tunes and remade them as something quieter and more beautiful. Even now, years after I’ve pretty much stopped paying attention to her career that closely, things like this still send slight chills up and down my spine.
Is it possible to take a mental health day from a blogging deadline that you’ve set for yourself? Probably not, but that’s what I’m doing today, and instead leaving you with this example of a Four Tet remix significantly improving a song, as referenced yesterday: Beth Orton’s Daybreaker, which goes from a weird song with a strange arrangement that sounds entirely out of place with the vocal, and weirdly influenced by bad acid house music of the 1980s, to something that sounds much more enjoyable and organic to my ears.
It might be something as basic as the added echo and acoustic guitar that ground the Four Tet version for me, but, yeah… the second version is almost unimaginably better, if you ask me.