Album Reviews

Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – Moving Out To The Country

(Radar) UK release date: 20 November 2006

What you have to remember is that Jools Holland was a founder member of Squeeze, who were really very articulate and quietly influential; that he was very entertaining on The Tube, a programme which introduced a whole generation to bands who would probably never have broken through in the UK without it and that, terrible interview technique aside, he continues this tradition with his Later series. That will allow you to excuse his habit of inserting his piano playing into performances by otherwise interesting bands on his show and his obsession with mediocre Big Band music.

I’m sure it provides a nice living for a lot of mature musicians, and a pleasant night out for people who’ve allowed themselves to become middle aged, but really Jools and his Rhythm And Blues Orchestra are so average in so many ways. But give them the credit for knowing how to add a spin to an album, and enjoy the rather wonky conceit behind Moving Out To The Country, 22 country standards in the Big Band stylee, sung by 17 different vocalists.

Now obviously you can arrange pretty much any kind of music for any kind of instrumentation but listening to this, time and again I found myself thinking ‘why bother?’ The Big Band treatment added precisely nothing to half the songs, and was detrimental to the rest. Take the opener, Willie Nelson‘s Darkness On The Face Of The Earth. You could not choose a worse Nelson song to which to add horns and boogie woogie piano.

It originates on Teatro, produced by Daniel Lanois; Lanois is legendary for stripping out everything unnecessary and leaving little behind – Nelson’s grating voice, an occasional guitar twang, maybe an echoey, tense drum. And the songs are more beautiful for it. Although KT Tunstall, a country fan, does a good job with the vocals, the orchestration has the same effect as taking a perfect diamond from a solitaire setting and tossing it on a a heap of jewels – it’s still the same but you can’t appreciate it anymore.

There are a handful of original Holland songs in the mix, including a collaboration with Solomon Burke which gives the album its title. If ever there was a performer who warrants a big band behind him it’s Burke, but the song’s not so good you’d want to buy the album for it. I had the same reaction to Dr John’s Dead Hosts Welcome. It’s fine but how many more Dr John tracks do you need? Rhythm & Blues Orchestra stalwarts Ruby Turner and Sam Brown are present and correct, and the rest is filled out with a weird mix of performers, which is what attracted me to it in the first place.

There are several very dull turns – two each from Lulu and Tom Jones plus Mark Knopfler and, surprisingly, Marc Almond, who finds none of the flair with Games People Play that he brought to his performance alongside Gene Pitney on Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart – and several awful ones.

Bob Geldof covers two Kris Kristofferson numbers, the gorgeous For The Good Times and The Pilgrim. They are terrific songs, and Geldof’s an admirer, but he sounds tentative in delivery and for some reason seems to make up the tune for protracted periods between the sections where he sings flat. And India Arie does something unpleasantly breathy with Georgia On My Mind, which also suffers from one of the most ludicrously overblown arrangements.

The standout turns are the most unusual. Brian Eno gives a cold, electronic edge to Dreaming My Dreams With You, and Richard Hawley warbles his way through an eerie version of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, with a kind of lumbering ‘Happy Trails’ backing track and little else. Louise Marshall brings real power and passion to Sweet Dreams, and David McAlmont‘s pure, bell-like voice sends shivers up your spine on Misty Blue.

Download your favourite turns and pass on the rest would be my recommendation. Or seek out the originals, by and large they’re much better.

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Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – Moving Out To The Country
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