Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Susan Werner -- Classics

Susan Werner
Sleeve Dog Records

The last Susan Werner album I heard was a fascinating concept album called The Gospel Truth which blended gospel-infused arrangements with lyrics that questioned religious belief and what some people do in the name of religion. With Classics, Werner has come up with another interesting concept taking 10 classic pop, rock, folk and reggae songs from the 1960s and ‘70s and arranging them for her voice and a small chamber orchestra, and adding excerpts from classical compositions to some of them.

An interesting concept if it could be pulled off properly, but certainly one that had the potential to easily descend into some kind of bland mush in the hands of the wrong artist, producer and arranger-conductor. I’m happy to report that Werner was the right artist; that she and Crit Harmon were the right co-producers; and that Brad Hatfield, who also played piano, was the right arranger and conductor. This album succeeds on every score, from the choice of songs – and classical compositions to pair some of them with – to Werner’s gorgeous, intimate singing and the lush classically-oriented arrangements.

Among my favourite tracks are a beautiful version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” that’s juxtaposed with excerpts from Erik Satie’s “Gynopedies #1” arranged for piano with woodwind and string accents, and an almost aggressive-sounding string arrangement of Paul Simon’s “A Hazy Shade of Winter” that also includes excerpts from the Winter movements of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

In Werner’s hands, Pete Seeger’s “Turn Turn Turn” almost seems like it was written for piano and strings rather than 12-string guitar, while “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” first recorded by Nina Simone, takes on a Spanish tinge when paired with the “Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez” by Rodrigo.

Werner ends the album with the apt “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” a relatively obscure Beach Boys tune.

-Mike Regenstreif

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