Marianne Faithfull's hard, troubled life has hardly been a secret. And her voice seems to directly reflect her long road. There's a combination of beauty, sadness and pathos in her low delivery that calls to the ghosts of Nico (former Velvet Underground chanteuse), German actress/singer Lotte Lenya and Bessie Smith. So, it's no wonder that Marianne Faithfull's new recording, Easy Come Easy Go, derives from a song that was most notably performed by the legendary blues singer.
Easy Come Easy Go is yet another successful collaboration with producer Hal Wilner, who produced Faithfull's two landmark "comeback" releases, Strange Weather (1987) and Blazing Away (1990), recorded live at St. Anne's Cathedral in Brooklyn. Wilner compliments Faithfull's smoky, worn and gravely vocals by encompassing an eccentric blend of 1930s Brecht/ Weill-like atmosphere with contemporary orchestrations, stretching the interpretations of 12 contemporary and traditional covers. This type of chemistry, when it works (which is often on this recording), is quite startling.
Her version of Dolly Parton's "Down From Dover" opens the album with a slow swinging soul groove, recalling Dusty Springfield's 1969 classic Dusty in Memphis. Wilner doesn't simply replicate the Stax Studio sound, rather he shapes it into a contemporary treatment executed by crack musicians. Along with her longtime collaborating musical partner, guitarist Barry Reynolds, Faithfull's core band is stellar, including Marc Ribot (guitar), the Dirty Three's Jim White (drums, percussion) and Greg Cohen (bass). Additionally, there are guest appearances from Sean Lennon, reed players Marty Ehrlich and Lenny Pickett and cellist Jane Scarpatoni, to name a few.
The aforementioned ’30s German opera feel is used full tilt for the setting of Randy Newman's "In Germany Before the War," in which Faithfull replaces Newman's irony with shocking tragedy. Her neo-psychedelic renditions of The Espers' "Children of Stone," out-psyches the Freak Folk original, while her near-Syd Barrett translation of Brian Eno's "How Many Worlds" borrows from a ’60s British "pastoral" production, often used on Faithfull's early ’60s recordings. And, her melancholic version of Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home," with the understated assistance of Keith Richards on vocals and guitar, brings an authentic rendering to the song's ache.
Her cover of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," in a duet with Antony Hegarty, is one of the most challenging, eccentric and brave orchestrations on the album. What begins as a slow-burning, ’70s soul groove, with the vocals intertwining, takes a dramatic turn, a freak-out of sorts, until returning to its original groove. The effect is surprising, original and brilliant.
After a number of spotty solo releases since her triumphant Strange Weather (and Blazing Away), Easy Come and Easy Go captures what Marianne Faithfull delivers best: her weathered grace.