Friday, 24 June 2011

Dave Stewart - Album Review

Dave Stewart
‘The Blackbird Diaries’

When I initially got given this record to review I’m sure like most people of my age group Dave Stewart was known purely from The Eurythmics and for songs like ‘Sweet Dreams (are made of this)’ and other 80’s synth pop songs. Where as the album before me is one that may indeed raise a few Botoxed eyebrows and one that will collect a new fan base altogether as Dave has gone country and left his Casio key-tar at home.

‘The Blackbird Diaries’ are a new collection of songs that lean towards a more mature country and blues format and is one different from anything Stewart has attempted in his past. Rather than do the typical Armani suit and a Stratocaster schtick that artists such as Eric Clapton have provided us with, he has decided to make the songs the focal point while still opting to use a stripped down acoustic based line up, with only pedal steel and Hammond organ adding the required flourishes to the finished product.

The album includes many guest artists such as Martina McBride, Colbie Caillat and Stevie Nicks. The more cynical of us here know this to be a tried and tested way for an artist on the comeback trail, looking to make the big push back into the mainstream to help cast the fan base net wider than their own crowd by cramming the album with a lot of guest stars (stand up Carlos Santana and the 'Supernatural' Grammy rollercoaster) although I will say that each artist here plays their part beautifully and does warrant inclusion purely on their own individual merit.

It seems that ‘roots’ is a word and style of music that artists are reaching back for when they get to a certain point in their careers, artists such as Bob Dylan who once lead the market in the 'new' sound have decided to play the music they love and head back to the cradle of the blues, both live and in the studio. Where as in the 70’s everyone from John Lennon to Bowie and even The Band made albums of their favourite songs in between new albums of original material, with sometimes wonderful or half baked results, here we have what would seem to be a flick through the influences directly and a look back at the music that continues to inspire Dave Stewart, the man as well as the artist/performer.

Tracks such as ‘Alibi’ and the collaborative ‘Cheaper than Free’ with Stevie Nicks, show a real strong inbuilt talent to weave a melody over a simplistic musical template and still create something new and interesting. Stevie Nicks brings something special to their track and although her voice sounds more weathered than the classic Fleetwood Mac track’s she is primarily known for, there is a more plaintive and honest quality giving the song an overall heartfelt audio hug.

Other songs included here that make this a great album to listen to include the swampy New Orleans ‘One Way Ticket To The Moon’ with its accordion accompaniment and ghostly echoed backing vocals that is a welcome change of pace to the proceedings and straight ahead country styles of the previous songs before it.

Not all the songs are slow or medium tempo, Stewart turns things up on ‘Stevie Baby’ with its Keith Richards riff getting pulled out of the closet of licks and being used to full effect, as well as the fuzz guitar and honky tonk piano led ‘Beast Called Fame’ which I would guess could be a contender for one of the singles.

The track that seems to be getting the most press and raising the most questions from its author is ‘Worth The Waiting for’, this is a track Dave Stewart co-wrote with Bob Dylan in the 1980s and one that seems to be at home with the other material here, especially bookended with ‘Gypsy Girl & Me’ (which is pretty much the Traveling Wilburys ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ in everything but name). It’s not an amazing song by any stretch, when you consider each of the writers other material in their back catalogue, but it’s a nice example and has almost been included for posterity.

Overall throughout the album it seems to be very obvious that Dave Stewart may have indeed made the album of his career and when you stop trying to live up to an image and just simply embrace the music that you personally like the best, the results that occur will always be interesting. I can't imagine a record executive sitting around during the playback and clicking his fingers and discussing how many singles he thought would be required. Country music goes in and out of the pop fashion although during the late 90s and early 2000s was on the lips of every music magazine. Here we have a well made, well executed labour of love from the artist, one that gives the listener a handful of great tunes that will quieten down the most hardened fan from calling out for 'Sweet Dreams' every night.

'The Blackbird Diaries' is released on June 28

*special thanks to Beth Heath Netherton at Republic Media



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