Steve Adey – Do Me A Kindness
Grand Harmonium – Out Now
Originally from Birmingham and now based in Edinburgh, Steve Adey’s third album, his follow up to 2012 critically acclaimed The Tower of Silence, is a departure in that it’s a collection of covers rather than original material. That said, these are more deconstructions than covers, Adey describing how he set out to turn the songs inside out while retaining the spark that makes them great.
Recording in a 19th century Edinburgh church, Adey played pretty much everything but was joined by other musicians providing trumpet, sax, bass, cello, percussion and guitars on various tracks as well as a six-piece vocal group put together by Helena MacGilp on four of the numbers.
It opens with spoken word, four lines from Rickie Lee Jones’ The Unsigned Painting which gives way to an improvised, experimental take on instrumental Bowie piece Sense of Doubt driven by hollow clattering percussion, mellotron, MacGilp’s voice and trumpet. This is followed in turn by an equally darkly atmospheric interpretation of PJ Harvey’s The Devil, Adey singing over a sepulchral piano and sweeping strings.
One of the two best-known numbers follows, drum machine ticking away in the background on a glorious reading of Morrissey’s Everyday Is Like Sunday, Adey’s echoey vocals supported by the six backing singers as the version evokes a quintessential English Sunday afternoon in a way that is both forlorn but celebratory.
The mood is sustained as single piano notes introduce a dreamy interpretation of Mary Margaret O’Hara’ s To Cry About with mournful trumpet and what sounds like someone sweeping the floor, martial beat percussion briefly intruding behind the soaring vocals.
Accompanied by harmonium, Nick Cave’s God Is In The House is a fairly straightforward setting, the choral vocals and reverb adding to the churchy feel. Then it’s over to the other familiar number, Dylan’s I Want You, which has a sort of Suicide meets Cohen air to it, an electronic undertow carrying the song along while Adey and a harmonising MacGilp carpet the almost poppy chugging rhythm with a dirge sensibility.
Already heady and atmospheric in the original, versions of Portishead’s Over and Low’s Murderer make for an inspired back to back pairing. The former has what sounds like a sample of dogs barking but may well be part of the electronic collage, the melody of the verses transfigured on the latter with its clanking ambience.
Not a cover as such, How Heavy The Days (recently premiered on Folk Radio UK) is a cello-drone setting of a Hermann Hesse poem underpinned by a bass drum thump. The album ends with a six-minute take on Smog’s River Guard that, again featuring the massed vocals alongside muted percussion and piano inside the electronic miasma, actually sounds more like a Nick Cave number in the way Adey delivers it.
I suspect it’s not going to have a particularly wide audience, but, decidedly not “the guy who strums along to the song book doing a karaoke rendition”, those who reach out and discover it will find themselves richly rewarded by its sonic inventiveness and exploration and Adey’s cathedral vault vocals.
Photo Credit: Julie Bull