The other week I mentioned that Joseph Arthur had released a tribute album to Lou Reed. Well, now I've spent a bunch of time with it (review in that link there) and I wanted to just share with you that I think it's worth your time. Lou Reed was one of my earliest musical heroes - I've mentioned that here a few times, I'm sure. My starting point was the album Mistrial, my mum bought the LP when it was released, when I was about nine or ten years old. It was a strange sound but I loved. Instantly. And from there it was off on the odyssey, back to the Velvet Underground after first lapping up a simple, single-disc Lou Reed best-of - and then on through the solo catalogue, collecting up everything, reading all the bios and spending my high school years fairly well obsessed with Lou and the Velvets.
I don't often feel the need to listen to Lou Reed's solo material these days - but I'm reminded of Lou Reed every day - my favourite piece of work (by my favourite artist and a dear friend) hangs in the kitchen. I study it every day, take in that idea of doing the "work" - all that matters is work...
But, as I said when Lou Reed passed away last year, I just didn't - instantly - feel the need to revisit the material. I guess because I felt I knew it too well. It sits with me - in my head. And in my heart.
So I was certainly curious about Joseph Arthur's album-length tribute. A little worried too - because tribute albums don't often mean a lot, don't always go to plan. John Hammond singing Tom Waits songs for instance, you get that he wanted to raise a glass, to toast those great songs but it's too clean, too polite. And it just traces around the originals.
But there's so much about Arthur's version of Lou Reed's songs that is different - he strips the songs of Lou Reed's playing, the arrangements never offer a hint of how Reed approached them, or even of how he might have re-approached them. They never suggest any attempt to play like Lou. These are piano and acoustic guitar ballads and the focus is on the song, on the words - it's this album, I reckon, that makes a great case for Reed as one of the truly great lyricists, well, helps reaffirm that anyway.. It's a compelling set - almost perfectly chosen in fact, taking in VU and Lou solo, including two songs from my favourite Lou Reed album (a nice surprise; the two best songs from that album too).
I'm still catching up with Joseph Arthur's recent work, having enjoyed him as one of the standouts on the recent Peter Gabriel covers project. But there he was all but running as a stand-in for the young Gabriel. I'm glad he decided to sound like himself when covering Lou. He offers a whole new way of hearingthose really great Lou Reed songs.
Here's my review.
Have you heard the album?
Or does it interest you to try it?
And what's your favourite tribute album where one artist covers the work of a musical hero?
Postscript: I'm giving away a double pass to see Bella Kalolo at the Jazz Festival so click this link to be in to win.
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