Artist/s: Allira Wilson (vocals), Harry Mitchell (piano), Ben Vanderwal (drums and percussion), Karl Florisson (double bass and glockenspiel), Carl Morgan (guitar), Harry Winton (guitar)
Label: ABC Jazz 071 9192
Reviewed by Chris Cody
“This is a thoughtful and beautifully weighted album of well crafted hit songs by Paul Simon, arranged sensitively by Harry Mitchell, produced by Ben Vanderwal and performed with balance and flair by Allira Wilson and her band.”
The album opens begins with the restless sound of brushes on drums contrasting with the locked and repeated chords of piano and double bass. It evokes most effectively the drizzle of the rain tapping on the roof and walls outside “the shelter of my mind”, a mind that returns to the truth of a love many miles away. The music has the effect of caressing the words of Kathy’s Song, sung gently and soothingly by Allira Wilson.
This love song, considered by many to be Paul Simon’s finest, was written for Kathleen Chitty who at 17 met Simon before he became really famous. They travelled around England and France together basking on the streets and playing in village folk clubs. Kathy would put out the hat for them and collect the coins. They broke up when Simon decided to return to the USA with the success of The Sound of Silence, while Kathy stayed out of the glare of lights and fame, living a quiet life in a forgotten corner of Wales to this day.
It is a beautiful song with which to open the album, and Wilson lets the melody and words speak simply, only melodically embellishing the final stanza:
And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I
The music and words are combined in this performance and arrangement with restraint and modesty to suggest nostalgia, doubt, and truth, without the word love ever being mentioned. It is effective and gives a new appreciation of the song.
The rest of the album continues with the gentle, held back mood. Mrs Robinson receives a bit more of a jazz treatment, in seven not four beats, and the musicians enjoy jamming on the very catchy chord change from B flat to G.
Baby Driver, with its feel good groove and echos of Woody Guthrie, was recently revived in the film of the same name and features the memorably disturbing line “I’m not talking about your pig tails, I’m talking about your sex appeal”.
Graceland uses overdubbed backing vocals, giving us a hint not only of the style of harmonies sung by Simon and Garfunkel but of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the controversial period when Simon toured to South Africa at the time of apartheid bringing many South African black musicians to the world’s attention. Here drums play a shuffle feel that suits a song allegedly written on a road trip after Simon’s break up with Carrie Fisher.
Still Crazy After All These Years has a more bluesy swing treatment and piano solo by Harry Mitchell while with Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard Wilson shines with her vocals, making all sound effortless, relaxed, and never forced.
The Sound of Silence is the one arrangement that doesn’t quite catch the haunting mood of the famous original, nor provide a fresh approach, being a bit too measured, with its Latin rhythm and simple harmonies.
Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover features a great solo by Harry Mitchell and some interesting guitar effects.
The album closes with Scarborough Fair/Canticle where we hear more of Allira Wilson’s upper range used to great effect. This arrangement has a more fusion sound with the guitar’s use of pedals and effects, and drums, guitar and rhythm section jam out together, with some exciting polyrhythms. Its so good that its fade out comes a bit soon for my liking although I can imagine how live versions would really take off.