Album Review – Mari Wilson: Cover Stories

4 Jul

Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying: Mari Wilson goes all Proustian on us

Cover Stories: a delightful piece of work

The title of Mari Wilson’s new album isn’t just a play on words. Cover Stories takes some beloved songs and gently picks its way through their lyrics, discovering a multitude of unexpected twists and turns, against a subtle backdrop of modern, stripped-down arrangements that make you shiver with pleasure as the tune emerges from each reinvented intro.

It’s bathed in nostalgia but could never be described as just another retro covers project. That’s partly down to Wilson’s sensitive, spot-on vocals which give the album its rather poignant quality. It isn’t that the choice of song is unremittingly sad. Far from it. But as she takes traditionally up-beat numbers like Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to be With You” or the Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and slows them down to meandering threnodies of contemplation, it’s impossible to escape a slight sense of melancholy, of youth seen through the eyes of experience.

I wouldn’t normally expect to describe a new treatment of “Be My Baby” or Gerry Marsden’s “Don’t Let the Sun Catch you Crying” as Proustian, but it’s a measure of the album’s quality, and the thought that has gone into the production (by Simon Hale, who also plays keyboards, and Wilson herself), that its dying chords leave a host of half-memories and elusive dreams hanging in the air, like the scent of autumn on a late summer breeze.

She has chosen these songs very carefully, and with great respect for the writers who have provided her – and us – with such a rich soundtrack of pop music.  And while she connects with them through her own story – much of which will be familiar to anyone who has had the good fortune to spend an evening at one of her gigs – her considerable gifts as a singer render them equally a reflection of the listener’s life. We revisit our own stories in parallel, allowing old, benevolent ghosts another outing. And just as when she sings “Be My Baby” in concert, and your eyes fill with unbidden tears for reasons that you can’t quite put your finger on, it’s a moving experience.

Other stand-out tracks include “Disney Girls” (another concert favourite) and the Gillian Welch number “Dear Someone”, which is treated almost like a sentimental Edwardian music-hall song (more ghosts!) The Gibb brothers are represented by “First of May”, Kirsty MacColl by “They Don’t Know”.  Cover Stories signs off with a soft, jazzy treatment of “Everybody Needs a Holiday”, an acknowledgement of the power and value of support in a relationship. It’s a reassuring coda to a really delightful piece of work.

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