AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #261(b) : TRACEY THORN

PART TWO OF A GUEST POSTING by ECHORICH

TRACEY THORN – A COVERS ICA

From the earliest days of Everything But The Girl, Tracey and Ben recorded some astonishing covers of popular and not so well known songs that spoke to them. Their first single, Night And Day, Kid, Time After Time, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, The Only Living Boy in New York, English Rose, are just a few.

As a solo artist, Tracey hasn’t shed away from sharing her take on a rather eclectic series of others’ songs. The majority of her 4th solo album, Tinsel And Lights features 10 covers of songs related to Christmas and Winter. None of her covers are perfunctory or covers by numbers. All of them are imbued with the magic Tracey has as a performer and some, for me, outshine the originals because of that magic.

Here are 10 covers performed by Tracey Thorn from her solo work of the last 13 years that show off that magic.

1. Under The IvyKate Bush Cover – released as a digital single in December of 2014. Just a piano and Tracey with strings filling in on the second verse. The intimacy is intense.

2. Come On Home To MeLee Hazelwood cover – a track from Love And Its Opposite, it’s a duet with Jens Lekman. Lekman’s baritone adds to the darkness of the song arrangement.

3. Kings CrossPet Shop Boys cover – originally a bonus track on the iTunes version of Out Of The Woods and was initially slated for inclusion, but cut due to running time of the album. It was released as a stand-alone single in December of 2007 with a Hot Chip Remix and a thank you to Neil Tennant who Tracey states motivated her to record a new solo album after 25 years. Tracey softly presents the song with pastoral addition of English horn and respect to the simplicity of the PSB original. I hold this version as an equal to a song I think is certainly among Pet Shop Boys best.

4. Sister WinterSufjan Stevens cover – a Christmas single released on Ben’s Strange Feeling label for Christmas 2010, it would reappear on the Tinsel and Lights album two years later. Tracey approaches the track with a simpler arrangement and a bit more focus on the vocals.

5. Get Around To ItArthur Russell cover – released as a track on Out Of The Woods. The most eclectic track on Tracey’s wonderfully eclectic 2007 solo album, she and producer Ewan Pearson play up all of the wonderful mutant disco sounds so familiar to fans of Russell and the Sleeping Bag Records label. It’s a joy filled musical romp.

6. Smoke And MirrorsMagnetic Fields cover – b-side to the Raise The Roof single. Where the original is all cool, dark, synth-folk and very knowing, Tracey brings a much more feminine, yet still knowing feel to her interpretation.

7. Hard Candy Christmas Dolly Parton cover – released as a track on Tinsel and Lights. A song I had never heard before and approaching it as a cover is a bit difficult. Popularized by Dolly, but also recorded by Cyndi Lauper, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Reba McIntyre, it’s a bit of a modern Christmas standard that no one really deviates from as written by singer/songwriter Carol Hall. But Tracey captures a quiet, lonely Christmas in her version that sounds so much like an EBTG song, no least of all because husband Ben contributed to some very familiar-sounding electric piano.

8. Night TimeThe XX cover – released on the Night Time EP. Originally chosen to be included on a covers compilation of The XX songs at the invitation of the band, the project fell through, but Tracey with Ben assisting still recorded the track with producer Ewan Pearson. Again there is some EBTG DNA in their version of the song that really works.

9. Snow in SunScritti Politti cover – released as a track on Tinsel and Lights. Another very contemporary cover by Tracey, the original can be found on the wonderful 2006 Scritti Politti album White Bread Black Beer. Tracey smartly doesn’t attempt anything too far from the perfection of the original here, instead paying homage to Green’s own reading of the song.

10. You Are A LoverThe Unbending Trees cover – released on Love And Its Opposite. From Strange Feeling stablemates The Unbending Trees, Tracey give a much more approachable, I might say less suicidal sounding, outing here, making it a more subtle form of torch song.

ECHORICH

JC adds……

Any excuse to offer up a Jens Lekman track on which Tracey provides a co-vocal.  From the album Life Will See You Now

mp3: Jens Lekman – Hotwire The Ferris Wire

and here’s the remix mentioned above:-

mp3: Tracey Thorn – King’s Cross (Hot Chip remix)

Huge thanks to Echorich for this incredible effort and for sending me down a Tracey Thorn cul-de-sac for a couple of days after I pulled all the track together….and above all else, for introducing me to that astonishing cover of King’ s Cross, a release I wasn’t previously aware of.

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #261(a) : TRACEY THORN

A TWO-PART GUEST POSTING by ECHORICH

I’ve been quite loud and proud about my love for all things Everything But The Girl over the years. So many things make their work stand out for me, not the least of which is the very individual sound of Tracey Thorn’s vocals. Like a very fine wine they have become more complex with age, but at the same time they are quite ageless. They mark for me the sound of an age which is now almost 40 years strong.

Tracey is a singular lyricist, a brilliant writer – you can’t go wrong with any of her books, and keen social commentator with her regular contributions to the New Statesman.

After Everything But The Girl ‘closed shop’ with the release of their final album, Temperamental, in 1999, she took time to be a mum, raise a family, catch up on life away from the world of recording and touring. But by 2006 her focus was back on music. Her first solo album in almost 25 years, Out Of The Woods, would be filled with collaborations with writers, producers, mixers, but no credited input from husband Ben Watt. It is a diverse and engaging album, with tracks ranging from electronic ballads to dance floor fillers, ambient chillers and pop.

The follow up album, Love And It’s Opposite, found her working with electronica producer Ewan Pearson and creating an album focused on getting older, relationships and navigating life. In comparison, to the previous release, the synths are toned down and a more minimalist approach shines through. This manages to give even more power and nuance to the beauty of Tracey’s vocals. There are hints of earlier EBTG songs and approaches, but there isn’a a song that feels like it’s treading past waters.

Never to be pigeonholed as predictable, Tracey chose to release a Christmas/Holiday/Winter themed album for her fourth solo effort. It is is an album filled with nontraditional choices, covers of songs by White Stripes, Sufjan Stevens, The Magnetic Fields, Green Gartside, Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell among them. You get an instant reminder of just how strong and familiar Tracey’s work has been over the years, as these songs seem to fit right in to her wheelhouse with no need to grease the gears. Importantly, Tinsel and Lights sees the return of husband Ben Watt on guitar and piano throughout the album. But most importantly there are two new tracks from Tracey to round out the collection. For me, one has become among my favorites of all her songs.

For the next 5 years, Tracey concentrated on writing two acclaimed books – Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star and Naked At The Albert Hall, raising her teen son and twins girls along with Ben, and representing my generation in her commentary column in the New Statesman. During this break she did find time to score the soundtrack to independent film director Carol Morely’s 2015 release, The Falling.

2017 found Tracey in the studio, again with producer Ewan Pearson in tow, to make an album that is as wonderfully feminist as it is personal, Record. Record sees the synthesizers and keyboards make a comeback in a big way. Most songs are all synth with the exception of an occasional bass, guitar, drum or string instrument finding their way in the mix. Tracey manages to take the idea of Girl Power and turn it into Woman Power, focusing on the battles, losses and triumphs of being a woman in the 21st Century.

This ICA is a compilation in two halves. I knew I was going to stretch the concept, once again, beyond 10 tracks and offer a Baker’s Dozen. But in trying to narrow down those 13 tracks I began doubting I could really be satisfied with my choices. In the end, I am presenting an ICA focused solely on songs written by Tracey from solo albums 2 – 5 and a second, accompanying ICA of Tracey’s recording of other songwriters work. I hope you will allow my indulgence, but I came to the realization there wasn’t going to be any other way for me to proceed.

TRACEY THORN – An ICA for a New Millennium

1. It’s All True – Escort Extended Remix (12” Single) – Released a month prior to Out Of The Woods, the song was given to a few remixers to have a go with. Escort, a “Nu Disco” band from Brooklyn bring their indie disco ethics to the albums lead single. Its mid-tempo and the electro grooves give it a feeling of early 80s NYC to these ears.

2. Long White Dress (Love And Its Opposite) – Tracey’s vocals are strikingly intimate, as if we are hearing her thoughts more than vocals. The music is spare – a guitar reminiscent of EBTG’s Idlewild period, simple melody and drum brush work is all the song really needs.

3. Grand Canyon (Out Of The Woods) – It would be easy to just let the gentler, singer-songwriter side of Tracey take over this ICA, but that’s far from all that I love about her. Grand Canyon is a pulsing dance floor beast, where Tracey leads the proceedings, but also allows her vocals to become part of the mix. Everybody loves you here – is the song’s refrain…Indeed.

4. Dancefloor (Record) – An instant classic from Record, Dancefloor is deep, rubbery and unapologetic in its celebration of “me.” Good Time, Shame, Golden Years and Let The Music Play are where her mind, soul, and body are and she is reveling in the abandon.

5. Hands Up To The Ceiling (Out Of The Woods) – A contemplative song that looks back at the past – one filled with missed opportunities, vanished expectations and reality. There is a beautiful longing in Tracey’s voice as she tries to reach back to a time that was filled with promise.

6. Why Does The Wind? (Love And Its Opposite) – One of the album’s uptempo tracks, shows off just how complimentary Tracey’s vocals are when they meet up with a good beat. What I love about the song is that it feels like three songs in one, giving it much more credit than just a dance floor number.

7. Smoke (Record) – my choice for JC’s ‘Some Songs Are Great Short Stories.’ It’s the simplest of melodies, you might say it really doesn’t carry much melody at all. The lyrics tell of the life lived by a couple, but also the feeling of belonging or finding a way to belong.

8. Hormones (Love And Its Opposite) – a bit of Indie-Pop here and thoughts on confronting the next generation, especially when they are your own kids.

9. Easy (Out Of The Woods) – Echoing some of the sounds and beats that made EBTG’s penultimate album Walking Wounded so magnificent, Easy is about knowing how bad someone might be for you, still pursuing them and knowing it won’t last, all because it’s just that easy.

10. Queen (Record) – the album’s teaser track, but not released as a single. The 80s flow easily from the song. Had it been released in say ’83 or ’84, MTV would have been all over this song, but the subject matter is far from the shiny, the world is your oyster feel of those days gone by. Queen is a great example of how Tracey can slip right into a character and start exploring.

11. Raise The Roof (Out Of The Woods) – Certainly one of my favorite tracks that Tracey has ever sung, Raise The Roof is all about realizing the clock is ticking and it’s time to take a chance and find love. It’s a funky mid-tempo, almost bossa nova track that build and builds with Tracey’s vocals. I have to recommend the remixes of Raise The Roof, in particular Richard Norris and Erol Alkan’s Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Re-Animation.

12. Sister (Record) – Sister is a Tracey Thorn Tour De Force! It is a no punches pulled ode to Womanhood. Over a rolling bass and percussion, counterpointed by a stabbing, repetitive guitar riff, Tracey, along with the assistance of Corrine Bailey Rae and Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint, draws a line in the sand, daring anyone to cross it and threaten her/womanhood’s right to be strong and independent. It is the album’s stand out track as well as one of the top tracks of 2018. It swirls in and out of you and spins around you until the last fading notes. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on Andrew Weatherall’s Remix and Dub mix. You won’t be disappointed.

13. Joy (Tinsel And Lights) – Finally, one of the two new tracks that appeared on Tracey’s 4th solo effort. It is one of the most touching and tender songs of Tracey’s song canon. Reflecting life at the end of the year and leading up to Christmas and the New Year, it is a call to rejuvenation and strength in the face of the coming unknown. The final verse tugs at my heartstrings every time I hear it…take a listen.

ECHORICH

JC adds……

Our learned scribe isn’t wrong about the remixes he refers to in its text.

mp3: Tracey Thorn – Raise The Roof (Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Re-Animation)
mp3: Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall Remix)
mp3: Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall Dub)

Part 2 of this ICA will appear tomorrow.

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 28)


I was tidying up a few things a few days back when I came across this comment from Echorich, in response to my lavishing praise on Record, the 2018 release from Tracey Thorn:-

“Record is all about strength, doubting it, gaining it, using it, sustaining it. It was certainly one of my favorite albums of 2018. I’m currently obsessed with the track Smoke. I might suggest it for Some Songs Are Great Short Stories…”

Let’s just say, it’s a great suggestion.

From Carlton Road came Mirriam and Joab
Came Mirriam and Joab
Came Mirriam and Joab

From the wide flat fields to the rolling smoke
to the rolling smoke
to the rolling smoke

I made a little home in the family
a family, a family

As the years went by they led to me
led to me

In good time they had a son called James
who had a son called James, were there no other names?

The first world war and the second one came
the second one came
the second one came

My mother now was a teenage girl
she survived the blitz
she survived the blitz

Though she knew a girl, who knew a girl
Who was blown to bits
who was blown to bits (ah, ha)

London you in my blood and
you’ve been there for so long
London you in my blood but
I feel you going wrong

And so my parents fled the smoke
some ancient feel for green awoke

But I look down the railway line
back to the city, that felt like mine
Where no one cared, what clothes you wore
Or who you loved, what books you bought
Where you were born, what God you loved,
or so I thought
or so I thought

London you in my blood and
you’ve been there for so long
London you in my blood but
I feel you going wrong

And though its streets are paved in gold
all bought and sold
all bought and sold

Still the river runs its course
Back to its source
back to its source

Tied and broke and river fleet
and hearts that beat,
and hearts that beat

Blood that flows and hearts that beat
And hearts that beat…

From Carlton Road came Mirriam and Joab
Came Mirriam and Joab
Came Mirriam and Joab

From the wide flat fields to the rolling smoke
to the rolling smoke
to the rolling smoke

mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Smoke

JC

DON’T MESS WITH ME……..

One of my favourite albums of last year was bought on a whim.

The cancellation of the next train home meant I could spend some bonus time in a record store close to Glasgow Central station. I always like to buy something when I’m in the shop, even if it is just a cheap paperback book or DVD. I noticed a display near the shop entrance promoting a new album by Tracey Thorn, something I wasn’t, until this point previously aware.

Regular readers will know that I’ve long been fond of Everything But The Girl but that I’ve also used the blog to offer the opinion that Tracey’s greatest vocal performance came when she guested for Massive Attack. I’ve a couple of her recent solo albums in the collection, neither of which I’ve regarded as essential listening, albeit they both contain a number of very fine moments. I have, however, enjoyed Tracey’s forays into the world of books, particularly her autobiographical work Bedsit Disco Queen, one of the most engaging and honest tomes about life in the music business. It was my thoughts about the book rather than the more recent albums which made me take a CD copy of Record to the counter.

It turns out that Record (ree-cord) is quite an extraordinary record (rek-ord), in which Tracey offers reflections from the perspective of who and what she is – a 50-something mother of three whose life-partner has been to hell and back in terms of his health, and who herself now has a breadth of knowledge and experience that can only come with age. Tracey has experienced things that just weren’t on her radar when she was young, fearless and feeling more or less unstoppable (not in any bravado way….just simply that fact that the vast majority of young folk are hardwired to feel like that).

It’s also a work in which the music is as clear and uncluttered as anything she’s done before, benefiting immensely from the fact that all the tunes are her own as well as her being able to utilise the talents of a number of high quality collaborators from the worlds of indie and pop. It’s a work which obviously means a lot to Tracey – she certainly went out on a limb by describing it as ‘nine feminist bangers’. The danger with such language is to over-promise and under-deliver, but in this instance, from the very off, this was never going to be the case.

Like many of my favourite releases of recent times, Record has changes of mood and tempo throughout, never threatening at any point to be monotonous or mundane. Synthpop, ballads, disco and indie are all on display with that distinctive and soothing voice to the fore. It’s an entertaining, charming and enjoyable album, very moving in places and continually thought-provoking. It doesn’t sound like an album by a 55-year old and it’s probably fair to say that Tracey has been influenced by the music that her grown-up kids listen to.

One of the best songs, Sister, was released also as a single, complete with radio edit and some remixes. It’s an absolute triumph on all fronts:-

mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister
mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister (radio edit)
mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall remix)
mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall dub)

The co-vocal is from Corrine Bailey Rae, whose soulful pop/jazz debut was a huge hit in 2006 on both sides of the Atlantic, but who just two years later had to cope with the tragic death, by misadventure, of her husband. She has since released two more successful Top 20 albums as well as rebuilding her life….

The energetic and driving bass and drums come courtesy of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa from indie band Warpaint.

Essential listening if you don’t mind me saying.

JC

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (12)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THURSDAY 8 MAY 2008

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Another entry where few words are really needed.

I’ve loads of Tracey Thorn records, dating back to her time with The Marine Girls, as a solo artist and of course with Everything But The Girl.

But she has never sounded better than on this:-

mp3 : Massive Attack – Protection (LP version)

No point in me repeating what I’ve said previously about dance acts/dance music and how I’m not well-enough qualified to comment with much conviction.

But somehow I’ve never really regarded Massive Attack as a dance-band – particularly when thinking about their best singles. If the one song per artist rule in this chart didn’t exist, then Teardrop would be in here. Both songs are equally gorgeous, haunting, unique and unforgettable. But in my mind, Tracey shades it over Elizabeth Fraser.

Why?

I think its because Protection is one of the best lyrics ever recorded by a female artist – its full of conviction, passion, love and strength without ever falling into the trap of being soppy or maudlin.

There was also a brilliant and imaginative video made for Protection.

Incidentally, strictly rockers would have had no idea that this was due up next in this rundown; it is one of life’s great coincidences that it follows on so soon after his ICA double-header.

FOOLS IN LOVE (APRIL AND OTHERWISE)

MSTT

This is loosely adapted and then expanded from a post over at the old place back in February 2010.

One of the minor reasons I ever started a blog was to bring attention to otherwise unavailable or difficult to find very fine records that had only ever been placed on the b-sides of long-deleted singles and while there is a growing tendency for album re-issues to bring together such tracks and label them ‘bonus’, nothing beat finding bits of vinyl with the crackly old originals.

One of the songs I really loved from my old vinyl days but had missed for many a year was Goodbye Joe, originally recorded as a b-side to a 1979 single :-

mp3 : The Monochrome Set – Goodbye Joe

It begins as if it is a live track, and one that is of poor sound quality at that. You can hear some crowd sing-a-long at the outset in what is clearly a small venue, then some cheering as a guitar as struck. After just under 50 seconds, lead singer Bid utters the words ‘Let’s Have Some Decorum’ and suddenly we switch to a quite gorgeous and moving studio track.

It’s about watching a film performance of this bloke here in case you were wondering.

Oh and for the record, the song was later recorded by Tracey Thorn, and again was consigned to obscurity on a 1982 b-side :-

mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Goodbye Joe

The original posting also featured the A-sides of the singles which, in Tracey’s case was also a beautiful piece of music:-

mp3 : Tracey Thorn – Plain Sailing

In the Feb 2010 posting I mentioned in passing how both of Tracey’s songs had featured heavily on compilation tapes in the era of 82/83/84 as a way to demonstrate to would-be girlfriends that I really did have a sensitive side but it never ever worked all that well. Seems I wasn’t alone in that failing as my good mate Dirk from Sexy Loser left behind the comment:-

“Yeah, mate: those tapes, ey?! I only wish I still would own a few of the dozens of them I made up back then with all my passion, heart and soul … instead I gave them away to girls who didn’t give a fuck. Literally.”

I remember that as being a genuine ‘splutter the tea all over the monitor’ moment when I read it. Still makes me smile………

And while I’m here, I just can’t resist:-

mp3 : The Style Council – The Paris Match (LP version)

Days of skinny-ribbed hooped t-shirts, a headful of perfectly coiffured hair and a devil-may-care attitude to life that I thought would last forever. How the fuck has Johnny Marr changed so little since those days???????

mp3 : The Smiths – Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want

Sigh.