January 10, 1996
Kate St. John, Indescribable Night (Gyroscope/Caroline Records 1995) - After spending the last decade as a highly sought-after session player in Europe, Kate St. John has finally released her solo debut. With St. John handling vocals and woodwinds, Indescribable Night features a languid sound that ranges from classical instrumentals to torch numbers. All in all, Indescribable Night is a gentle treat.
As a classically-trained musician lured into the world of pop music, Kate St. John is probably best remembered for her haunting woodwinds and angelic singing with The Dream Academy, the British pop combo from the mid-80s that struck gold in the U.S. with the hit single, "Life in a Northern Town." (Note -- the Dream Academy's debut album is out-of-print; despite looking high and low, I can't find it on CD).
With her many talents as an arranger, performer, and singer, Kate has performed with such acts as Tears for Fears, Julian Cope, and Kirsty MacColl. In addition, she has appeared on five recent releases from Van Morrison (including Too Long in Exile and last years', Days Like This), and also spent three years touring with Van the Man.
For Indescribable Night, Kate recruited fellow Morrison alumni Tenna Lyle on vibraphone and Georgie Fame for keyboards on one cut, "Green Park Blues" (which, surprisingly, is the album's weakest number). The album also features a raft of talented European studio players, such as Dick Skinner on bassoon and Alec Dankworth on acoustic bass.
In discussing Indescribable Night, Kate says, "People might be expecting an album full of woodward wizardry, brimming with indulgent oboe solos and fancy sax licks. Well, they won't find it on this album. First and foremost, it's a collection of songs. The voice is the focus, the musical arrangements creating the atmosphere of the words.
"In general, I lean towards music that is uplifting in some way, that hints at the spiritual instead of reflecting the confusion and drudgery of life."
Kate continues. "Looking back, there are several styles that have influenced the sound on this album. One is the French 'chanson.' I think it was the sweetness of their semi-classical 'charmant' style of singing that impressed me. This was the sort of music I could sing, and the arrangements were inspiring too, really clever woodwing parts and overall very sonically pleasing. I love the nostalgic, romantic ambiance of it all."
Kate's analysis is accurate. The album has a strong Continental influence, with gentle, multi-layered instrumental backgrounds. The album includes many lovely numbers, such as "Paris Skies," the instrumental "Fireflies," and "Chat Voyeur," a cha cha. The highlight of disc is the lullaby-influenced "Variety Lights," as Kate sings "Take me back to innocence/Take me to the cornerstone/I'm holding something to my heart."
Indescribable Night defies easy description. However, it has a lovely undertone that can't be ignored. Try this sweet morsel.
Al Green, Your Heart's in Good Hands (MCA 1995) - On his first secular album in nearly 20 years, eight-time Grammy winner, Al Green shows why he has a permanent place in contemporary music history. For these ten tracks, Al fuses 70s Memphis sensibility with 90s rhythms and grooves. The result is a solid project that approaches the Rev. Green's classic work with Hi Records.
Making great music is nothing new for Al Green. Born in Forest City, Arkansas, he enjoyed regional success in the late 60s before teaming with the Memphis-based Hi Records and its stellar producer, Willie Mitchell. Al then spent the next eight years racking up an unprecedented eight million-selling singles, including "Tired of Being Alone," "Let's Stay Together," and "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)."
Al retired from secular music in 1979 (he was ordained as the paster of Memphis' Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in 1976), and devoted himself to his gospel career. However, Al knew that he would return someday to pop music.
Explains Al, "After 18 years of recording gospel music, this album is a continuation of who I am musically. My gospel audiences know that I was in this business before I started recording gospel. When it came time to do a new album, I thought 'Love is a good thing - I can sing about that,' and that's what I did all through this record."
With production help on five tracks from David Steele and Andy Cox (of the Fine Young Cannibals), the album also includes many musical guests, including Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson, both of whom played with the legendary Memphis Horns.
Though the disc starts slowly, the middle tracks, including "Love is a Beautiful Thing," "One Love," and "Best Love" are an immediate return to Al's smooth, string-and-horn-based Memphis soul. No kidding. You'll dig the groove on these tracks as soon as you hear them.
Your Heart's in Good Hands is proof that genius continues, even after many years removal from the studio. The album bears occasionally traces of restlessness: although the production is smooth throughout (as you would expect from a master), it sometimes seems as if Al wasn't seeking the perfect mix, but just wanted to get the album completed.
It doesn't matter. Almost perfect from Al Green is better than 99% of the new soul (and without any of the unnecessary sexual allusions or misogynist trash that litter contemporary r&b).
Al Green's as good as anybody ever was in the soul business, and Your Heart's in Good Hands continues his pop career without missing a beat. Chalk this up as a great find.
-- Randy Krbechek
Copyright (c) Randy Krbechek
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