In my review of Eddi Reader at London’s Union Chapel, I referred to a point in the set, where the band became a back drop for a vibrant slice of autobiography. Eddi got into story telling mode and amidst the very funny account of family gatherings, she revealed the origins of her love of music and the inspiration that set up her outstanding career. With the beer and whiskey flowing and a party in full swing, with everyone crammed into a couple of rooms, a point would come where the singing would start. Uncles and aunts would take their turn with a song.
The men were mostly more suited to the arc light of a welder than the spotlight, yet poured their hearts into their chosen repertoire, but the best singer of all was Eddi’s mother. Not only did she have the best voice, but also took her chance to sing very seriously and would practice around the house. It was this backdrop of song that would sow the first seeds for Eddi, who would eventually discover the gift for herself, and with it an appreciation of the power of songs and how they can make people feel. That gift has taken her around the world, living a dream that perhaps her mother once harboured, but for Eddi became her life.
Eddi’s journey and the eventual the calling of her family roots and native Glasgow, where she has now finally settled, formed the basis of the exceptional Vagabond album and the shows that spun off from it. So with the last tour of 2014 coming to a close, the Back The Dogs EP is released, joining a few dots, to add another chapter to her story. It takes the album track about her Grandmother’s passion for a little flutter on the races, adds a couple of the standards that would have been heard at family parties, but also throws a couple of surprising choices into the mix. Eddi like all singers and songwriters is a music fan. It naturally goes with the territory, but for someone who has grown up with interpretations of classic material, as well as a gift for writing, the mixture seems very natural.
Of course, the track that gives the EP it’s title, and is remixed from the album for this single version, benefits from the original studio sessions, so is fully orchestrated and is actually quite brilliantly arranged and produced, even managing to include a snippet of Eddi’s grandmother’s voice found on an old tape. The song is a variant of the three count, which those more musical than I will immediately acknowledge, so sets up a lively tempo, while the instrumental mid section, the middle eight breakdown and the eventually swell of strings set us on a merry dance. It’s as if the “optimistic double” has finally come good, mixed with a healthy dose of nostalgic affection.
Much more simply arranged, with just Eddi and husband John Douglas, of Trashcan Sinatras fame, Juxtaposed With U and Amy Winehouse’s Love Is A Losing Game, prove very interesting choices. The subtle guitar arrangements and sparing use of doubling up the voices, with Eddi adding harmony, bring a stark realism to the songs, allowing the sentiments to shine through as Eddi uses her voice to gather the contrasting emotions, the empathy and the misery, contained at their core. Shorn of any grand production, both songs reveal facets of themselves and gain a significance that you’ve perhaps not appreciated before.
Mona Lisa and especially the fully orchestrated Moon River then cast us back once again to those family gatherings. It’s the gift that the great singers bring as once more Eddi manages to find something in each that makes it hers. It undoubtedly helps that both are genuine classics, but then with some fantastic interpretations to live up to. If Nat King Cole made Mona Lisa his own, then the book on Moon River is perhaps more open, from Audrey Hepburn’s original rendition in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the song has known many voices. Perhaps Andy William’s lays the strongest claim to the definitive version, but for these ears, Eddi’s version, with the added frisson of seeing it form the centre piece of her live show, turns the emotional taps full bore. It’s born anew and beautifully done, “dream maker,” and “heart breaker,” indeed.
To borrow from the lyric again, “There’s such a lot of world to see,” and Eddi has seen most of it based on moments like these, living her dreams and by using her gift, touching the hearts of so many.
Review by: Simon Holland
Back The Dogs EP released on Reveal Records (3 Nov 2014)