In an alternate universe I’m a single guy preparing my house (maybe an uber-cool treehouse?) for the purposes of seducing a lady*. Now given my glowering rugged manly looks, which occasionally betray a beguiling glimpse of the boy-child within, allied to a certain roguish charm and sophistication above the norm for mortals, let’s face it – she doesn’t stand a chance. Not only that but I have accoutrements. Oh yes. I’m all accoutremented up. To the max. In fact, possibly to a point just north of the max.
I have scented candles, large floor cushions and interesting art of the walls. I have a delicious vegetarian meal cooking in the oven (I’m a bit vague on exactly what this is, maybe I could serve up baked beans on toast in an endearingly ironic fashion?), providing nice aromas. I have a flashy coffee maker for later in the evening and some of the finest wines known to man, plus beer in the fridge if she’s that way inclined. I have an arsenal of amusing yet interesting conversational gambits to deploy throughout the evening, but not in a pre-planned manner, I may even cry whilst discussing my recent charity work/the plight of lemurs/the state of my 1983 shaped Guns For Hire picture disc to highlight my sensitive nature. Oh yes. But most of all, I have the sounds.
Now a lesser operator than myself would leap straight for the Barry White maybe, bad move for two reasons a) it sets out your nefarious intentions too early b) anyone with any taste would heave up their ironic baked beans all over your sofa within the first five bars, passion killer city! Now I could make a good case for Keith Jarrett The Köln Concert, which is pretty much one of my fave LP’s ever, but in just such a hypothetical situation I’d plump for another of my all-time greats Mark Lanegan I’ll Take Care of You. With the gentle mellifluous tones of Mr Lanegan on low, I guarantee that by the time he was exhorting us to ‘Boogie boogie boogie now’ on the final track, I would have been, umm, boogie boogie boogie-ing for quite some time. In fact I probably would have finished my boogie boogie boogie-ing a good quarter-hour before, after granting my date a 3-minute glimpse of heaven before subsequently packing her off in a taxi and would have been loading the dish washer long before the, umm, climax of the final track. Oh yes.
I’m pretty sure that I don’t own another covers LP, not even Pin Ups, I tend to view them all with the suspicion that they’re just being used as stop gaps, place-holders and ways of propping up artists suffering Inspiration leakage Syndrome (ILS)**. However I’d make a good case for I’ll Take care of You, for a number of reasons partly because I didn’t know any of the songs before anyway, they’ve all been tastefully re-shaped and redecorated for purpose and Lanegan manages the difficult balance of claiming these tracks for his own, whilst at the same time treating them delicately and with respect.
I’m not very objective about Mark Lanegan I will admit, in fact I have a great big man-crush on him and own most of what he has ever released, Screaming Trees Dust being a particular favourite of mine. He just has that perfect voice, I remember the first time I heard Screaming Trees and being rather pleased that he could patently sing, rather than his being just another screamer. I’m not a big fan of QOTSA and always enjoyed his vocal tracks more than anything else, when I saw QOTSA on the Songs For The Deaf tour they were poor^, but there was a palpable sense of class whenever Lanegan took to the mike, stick-thin and almost totally still the whole time he sang. It’s a wonderful manly, lived-in voice too, very clearly the product of excess and vice, a honey and gravel sandwich with a hint of Marlboro. At the risk of undermining all the nice things I’m about to write about this LP, I could quite happily listen to him singing the phone book.
As with all his earlier solo work I’ll Take Care of You is located squarely in the folk/Americana/blues camp, with a nod, or two, towards crooning and soul. The opener ‘Carry Home’, is the whole LP in a nutshell, taking the Gun Club’s ragged gothic psychobilly and remaking it a dark, restrained powerful romantic statement, erring just on the right side of menace,
Although I’ve howled across fields
And my eyes turned grey
Are yours still the same?
Are you still the same?
Stripping the accompaniment back to a single acoustic guitar, played brilliantly by Mike Johnson, is a masterstroke letting the words breathe and giving that voice all the necessary space to hit home. Brook Benton’s ‘I’ll Take Care of You’ is next up another romantic tour de force and sung identically to the Bobby Blue Band’s version, this is probably the track he changes least on the LP and when it is this good, it’s not hard to see why he didn’t. ‘Shiloh Town’, Tim Hardin’s wonderful song of loss and the cost of war, Mark Lanegan interprets the song beautifully, resisting the temptation to over sing anything here which adds to the power of the piece (See a man and a woman alone / Was it worth the cost?).
Next up is my absolute favourite on the LP, ‘Creeping Coastline of Lights’^^. A wonderfully judged nocturnal car journey of a tune, as well as being one of my favourite song titles. This track is radically reinterpreted as a dark crooning cousin of Doors ‘L.A Woman’, there is a genuine longing and wonderment here, a dependency maybe?
Sunset to the sea
Where the waves
Ride in on horses
I’m looking for her light
Creeping coastline of lights
Look it’s all good here and I’ll spare you a full track-by-tracking, but the ones that really stand out for me are the slow agonized blues-creep of ‘On Jesus’ Program’, the murder ballad ‘Little Sadie’ and the aching hard times of ‘Shanty Man’s Life’. Even though Mrs 1537 isn’t a fan I love his swampy, fuzzed cover of Tim Rose’s ‘Boogie Boogie’, which closes the album*^. As always throughout the whole album the playing is spot on, former Soundgarden and Hater (anybody apart from me remember Hater?) bassist Ben Shepherd, Screaming Trees Van Conner and Barrett Martin, and Dinosaur Jr bassist Mike Johnson, to name a few. Mr Lanegan clearly has a damn fine address book.
There’s a fabulous alchemy involved in I’ll Take Care of You which transmutes an LP of covers into, not only a great cohesive listen, but an LP that evokes nothing more or less than a homage to a large part of the great tapestry of American music. There’s a real musical intelligence at work here, and when you combine it with that voice – satisfaction guaranteed.
*who/what she looks like is irrelevant here, after all I’m a married man.
**ILS having been recently recognized and incorporated into the last edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association (2013). True story.
^Nick Oliveri was kicked out not very long afterwards, so I imagine that tension was feeding a bit of a misfiring show.
^^I’d never heard the original of this track by Leaving Trains until just now … wow! I need to investigate.
*^the only track here that I think isn’t as good as the original, funnily enough.