Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 85 - B.E.F. 'Music of quality and distinction volume 2'

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of the ‘Cutting-room casualty’. Actors turn up on set, give the role their best shot, go home to their lovely families and then discover, six months later, that they literally didn’t make the cut.
Kevin Costner thought he was going to get his big break in ‘The Big Chill’, Tobey Maguire must still wonder what happened to his appearances in ‘Life of Pi’ and the under-rated ‘Empire Records’, Robert Pattinson expected to find himself in ‘Vanity Fair’ (but didn’t) and Harvey Keitel, as it turns out, wasn’t in ‘Apocalypse now’.
I often wonder how this must make an actor feel.
Our cassette experiment subject today also has a ‘Cutting-room casualty’ that you’ve probably heard of – John Lydon.
B.E.F.’s ‘Music of quality and distinction volume 2’ is, in name and concept only, a follow up to their ground-breaking set of cover versions released as ‘Volume 1’ in 1982 and featured all that time ago on day 5 of ‘The great cassette experiment’.
A much more soulful album than ‘Volume 1’, ‘Volume 2’ matches top-drawer (and 'Top Draw') vocalists with classic tunes from yesteryear. It’s much more polished and generally ‘classier’ than the first volume, but nowhere near as musically or culturally significant.
In some cases the renditions are tremendous (for example Billy Preston’s ‘Try a little tenderness’ is obviously a ‘slam dunk’) but can be a little bit predictable.
Where the album works best, such as Green’s brilliant interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I don’t know why I love you’ or the always brilliant Billy Mackenzie’s re-working of Deniece Williams’ ‘Free’, it’s an absolute delight.
Where it doesn’t work so well, such as Terence Trent D’Arby’s frantic rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s alright Ma, I’m only bleeding’ or Richard Derbyshire’s slightly monotonous take on The Gap Band’s ‘Early in the morning’, it’s nowhere near as engaging.
Most of the tracks lie somewhere in between, with the majority landing slightly closer to the bulls-eye than threatening to inflict harm on bystanders. Ghida de Palma’s ‘Feel like making love’ (never one of my favourites in its original guise) has more than a hint of helium about it. Tina Turner’s understated ‘A change is gonna come’ is an extremely likeable version of Sam Cooke’s classic.
Sadly, neither of the two reggae tracks recorded with John Lydon made the final cut, as they ‘didn’t fit into the eventual album concept’. Shame.
The insert also lists the artists who were approached, but for one reason or another didn’t take part. This list includes David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Barry White, Kate Bush, Aaron Neville and Dr. John. Now that’s an album I would have loved to hear!
Incidentally, B.E.F. have just released ‘Music of quality and distinction volume 3.
Label – Ten records
Year – 1991

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