Apr 4 2012
My review of Theo Bleckmann‘s album Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush just got published over at AllAboutJazz. The original article appears HERE, at AllAboutJazz).
The 1980s possessed an incongruous hope for the future against a backdrop of possible nuclear annihilation, as if in the darkest of times, society retreated to a naive state. This is a generalization that doesn’t, obviously, represent the entire gamut of human experience, yet it was there all the same. The majority of singer and composer Kate Bush’s music came from that decade, and there was always something about her music that seemed representative of that cloak of innocence; a touch of fairy tale magic, even when singing about loss, heartbreak or the cost of war. Since then, cynicism has been adopted by much of society as the interface with the human experience, and so it’s supremely refreshing that singer Theo Bleckmann embraced the magic and optimism from which the source material for Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush sprang.
Your album personnel: Theo Bleckmann (vocals, electronic voice processing, glockenspiel, toy piano, caxixi), Henry Hey (piano, Minimoog synthesizer, Fender Rhodes piano, prepared harpsichord, voice), Caleb Burhans (electric five string violin, electric guitar, voice), Skuli Sverrisson (electric bass, voice), and John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, crotales, voice).
An appealing aspect of Bush’s music has always been her lack of self-consciousness in baring her heart and soul through her music. It’s the kind of thing that is easy to mock, but the correct reaction is to respect the hell out of it. Bleckmann shows the same courage Bush displayed when recording the original versions. Of the fourteen album tracks, all but two were recorded in the 1980s, half of which were released on Bush’s Hounds Of Love.
The best example of Bleckmann’s outstanding treatment of the Bush songbook is in opening track, “Running Up That Hill,” which rings with sincerity and beauty, not to mention the glassine shimmer of the Fairlight CMI digital effects that grew in popularity on many pop and rock albums of the 1980s. Bleckmann’s version is an astounding facsimile of the original, a feat outshone by the song’s immaculate tunefulness.
In addition to unabashed sincerity, Bush also had a predisposition to drama bordering on the theatrical. In the hands of a less talented artist, this is the kind of thing that can quickly devolve into the comical. Bleckmann, however, displays the same uncanny knack for making it so easy to buy in, to accept the drama as genuine tension and the theater as the song’s reality.
Another delicious example of Bleckmann taking ownership of the Bush songbook is his transformation of “Army Dreamers,” from Bush’s stately waltz into an a catchy anthem more akin to shouting up at tavern ceilings than spoken elegantly in formal dancehalls. But Bleckmann doesn’t execute full-on costume changes for every Bush composition. Comparing Bush and Bleckmann versions, sometimes the before and after pictures carry a striking resemblance. The details hidden within the differences, however, are often quite breathtaking, as evidenced in how Bleckmann tweaks Bush’s conventional piano solo tune “And Dream of Sheep” into a little lullaby bobbing away on an open sea of ambient effects and vocal looping, or on “Hello Earth!,” in which Bleckmann gains an emotional impact greater than that of the original by adopting a restraint that trades in on some of the sensationalism the Bush’s recording.
The highlight of the album, arguably, is “Cloudbusting,” with its rhythmic marching formations juxtaposed against the piano exuberance of notes scrambling up a flight of stairs, and Bleckmann’s vocal bounce a pleasant fusion of the two extremes. The end result is that “Cloudbusting” is as complex as it is catchy.
The best of tribute albums possess all the soul of the original, while the heartbeat and blood flow is purely that of the music’s adopter. Bleckmann must understand this on some level, because the music he presents makes it easy to fall in love with Bush’s music all over again, while presenting facets so divergent as for Bleckmann’s album to stand on its own two legs, requiring no knowledge or love of the source of the music’s inspiration. In this, Hello Earth! is an unqualified success.
You can stream album tracks at the artist site, here.
Released on the Winter & Winter label.
Here’s a video of a live performance of an album song (courtesy of the artist)…