Various Artists – Sing And They’ll Sing Your Song
Megaphone UK – 2 March 2018
Compilation albums are notoriously hard to review. The music may be superb, but there’s not always a clear message. Thematically, things can jump all over the place.
Anyway, who made the rule that an album needs to be organized around a central musical or lyrical theme? (The Beatles, perhaps?) Many critics and fans will list compilation releases among their favourite albums. It’s perfectly fine to keep it simple and enjoy a collection of great songs, which this time come in a variety of genres and in several languages.
“Sing and They’ll Sing Your Song” is a collection from the Paris-based Megaphone label formed in 1997 by concert promoter Stephane Bismuth. With tunes ranging from traditional folk to French alt-rock to Middle Eastern instrumental, one can see why it doesn’t easily fit into any specific category.
Highlights though are many. The opener, Michael Head’s Something Like You, sets the tone with its Sting-like vocals. The song, from the first album on the Megaphone label, has the airy feel of a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Ribbon Bow is a desperately beautiful song from the late Karen Dalton, an influential folk singer who was a favourite of Bob Dylan. Post blues, but early American primitive, the song floats eerily along with unique chord changes on banjo and guitar. The British folk-inspired lyrics of this traditional song say it all …
“If I had a ribbon bow/To hide my hair
If I had a fancy sash/My own true love would find me fair.”
It’s Alright is another Karen Dalton song on the release. It was recorded in 1962 before a live audience at The Attic in Denver, CO. The song is notably ahead of its time having more in common with the folk experimentation of Fred Neil and Tim Buckley than say, Dylan or Baez. It’s a haunting rendition – her vocals stop you dead in your tracks. Dalton was a troubled soul and struggled with physical and mental health issues throughout her adult life. She died in 1994, these two songs alone are a testament to her singular talent.
Hawaii is a pedal steel jewel from Silvain Vanot, known as “the French Neil Young.” The mellow tone is offset by the chorus which repeats the title “Hawaii” several times as if calling for a lost lover. Another French-language song, Ballade de Melody Nelson from Teppaz and Naz is an edgy take on the popular Serge Gainsbourg tune from the film “No Rest for the Brave.”
Shoot the Nanny is a delightfully lazy rocker from French multi-instrumentalist Julien ‘Lecube’ Barbagallo, drummer for Tame Impala. The amiable tune shuffles along with a “Beatles meets indie singer-songwriter” ambience. Another highlight, the hypnotic Dolaytrim, is a fuzzy organ driven sonic feast from the one-man band Mickael “Angil” Mottet.
Better Be Safe Than Sorry is a total change of pace, a song just waiting for a movie soundtrack. It’s a lesser known Bahamian Calypso blast from the past (the 1950’s), from Nassau’s Blind Blake (Blake Alphonso Higgs, not the Piedmont Blues singer Blind Blake). The song is said to be a major influence on the Calypso hits of Harry Belafonte. Listen, and you’ll see why.
The album closes with a stunning solo instrumental, Maqam Hijaz/Maqam Awj, by Iradi Oud player Omar Bashir, the son of Munir Bashir, considered the master of the Arabic lute. The gentle appeal of the song is a reminder of the universality of folk music, an idea this album clearly celebrates.
The compilation comes with a 12-page booklet with unpublished photographs of every artist, including rare shots from the personal archives of Karen Dalton.