Thursday, August 12, 2010

Luka Bloom's Recalls his Dreams In America

1.Dreams in America
2.Bridge of Sorrow
3.Love Is A Place I Dream Of
4.Don't Be So Hard On Yourself
5.Blackberry Time
6.Lord Franklin
7.See You Soon
9.The Acoustic Motorbike
10.Cold Comfort
11.Be Still Now
12.Black Is The Colour
13.I Hear Her, Like Lorelei (Live)
14.Love Is A Monsoon (Live)
15.Sunny Sailor Boy (Live)

Available September 28, 2010
To pre-order / listen to tracks go to Compass Records 

As an avid fan since his debut, Riverside (1990), I tend to be critical of Luka's work. I regard him and his work highly and expect the most from his output and like most when Luka challenges himself with different genres, arrangements, and production aesthetics. His recent Eleven Songs (2009) is among his best work which includes Riverside, Acoustic Motorbike (1992) and Salty Heaven (1999).

I was excited to learn that Luka was releasing a retrospective with re-recorded tracks. I love when artists re-interpret their songs. It gives the songs a chance to live and breathe and change. The artist can sometimes finish a cloudy thought or change one word and instill a completely different meaning and feel to a song.

What is great on this record are the songs that have a different treatment than their studio versions. Blackberry Time and Ciara are fantastic. There's an immediacy and intimacy in these versions. Stripped down when compared to Salty Heaven (like his live performances.)  Some people feel that Salty Heaven is over-produced. I disagree. I believe that Luka's songwriting and style is enhanced by adding additional melodies, instruments and musicians.  Also, listeners get their cake and can eat it too when Luka produces a full-band album because he usually tours solo.

Acoustic Motorbike is also great on this record with an extended lively version; his voice echoing near the end. Lord Franklin, a new song, is beautiful and reminiscent of the wonderful Listen To The River. Lovely.

There are a number of tracks that were a bit of a let down; songs that are verbatim of other studio albums or just not very strong tracks to begin with. What is the point in including Dreams In America, Love Is A Place The I Dream Of, Cold Comfort and See You Soon? These versions are so close to the originals, they do not add any new colors. However, for the infrequent fan they are a good primer.

An expection is Black Is The Color which although has a similar treatment as Turf (1994) has something imperceptible about it that justifies its inclusion. Luka's emotion as he sings it makes the listener believe he's in love with a raven haired woman right now.

The pretty but sleepy Be Still Now and Bridge of Sorrow are examples of ones that could have been left behind. They were weak before and the verdict remains the same here.  With a catalogue overflowing with strong material these two were head scratchers.

The album finishes with a live version of Sunny Sailor Boy; a song included in almost every live set with lyrics written by Mike Scott of the Waterboys that are a little too saccharin. It was also released on his live album, Amsterdam, in an almost twin version which makes its inclusion here redundant.

However, the two songs before it are examples of what works well and what leaves the listener wanting more of. I Hear Her, Like Lorelei and Love Is A Monsoon sound absolutely incredible and are taken from National Concert Hall show in Dublin, August 2009 which paired Luka with an orchestra and acclaimed singer Eddi Reader.  Perhaps he is planning to release the show as an live album. These two tracks are the epitome of how Luka's already well-crafted songs can be elevated even further. The plucking of the violins during Monsoon is delicious, the arrangements rich in texture and emotion. Lorelei leaves me breathless.

I think what would have made for a truly great record is if the songs that were previously recorded in a more paired down fashion (from albums like Turf and Innocence) got more of a full-band treatment and songs that were previously produced with a full-band feel (like Salty Heaven and Acoustic Motorbike) were stripped down more.

With all retrospectives, fans can spend hours debating the tracks included versus what they would have liked to see. That's part of the fun. No doubt in this case, fans will debate both the song choices and the versions of them.

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