CHECK IT OUT!
by Debbie Kruger
Eddi Reader is ready to do it alone. After a decade of drawing heavily on collaborations with other writers, she realizes its okay in fact its appropriate to have faith in her own prowess.
Its been a long haul. From the folk halls and busking street corners of Glasgow to backing vocals for the Eurythmics, Reader fought for her true voice vocally and on paper. In the heavily synthesized pop scene of the 1980s, London-based quartet Fairground Attraction charmed listeners with its acoustic lucidity and sweet folk tunes. Mark E Nevin wrote most of the groups songs but it was Eddi Readers voice that grabbed the punters.
Young, artless and painfully insecure, Readers own songwriting talents were all but squashed during her Fairground Attraction days. Her working class-ness, as she describes it, and deference to real songwriters, made her doubt her own abilities, and Nevins control was overpowering.
A lot of what I was writing was very naïve and a lot of it was very melodically great and catchy but not very well thought out, she says. Her one composition on Fairground Attractions only studio album, First of a Million Kisses, was Whispers, an inspiring tribute to one of Readers favorite subjects, the mother.
Ive been working with Boo Hewerdine now whos a completely different kettle of fish. Hell come in and Ill have one line all week and hell just sit there and hell play it and hell play it, and hell play different chords behind it, and Ill play different chords, and he wont let me leave it alone. Ill throw something out all spontaneous and vomity and just free association, and hell tape it, hell collect it, hell play it back to me, hell go, See? See how good it is?
On her latest album, Angels & Electricity, Reader has relied heavily on collaborating and covering the work of past and contemporary heroes, from Fred Neil and John Prine to Ron Sexsmith, whose On A Whim, is the only song he has written especially for another artist. On her first solo album, 1992s Mirmama, Reader took the lyrics of civil rights activist Si Kahns What You Do With What Youve Got, which she had heard sung by Dick Gaughan, and wrote a completely new melody for it. On hearing Readers version, its hard to imagine the song any other way.
Along with Boo Hewerdine, her musical cohorts include Fairground percussionist Roy Dodds, folk siblings Ewan and Neill MacColl, and keyboard player Teddy Borowiecki, who has worked constantly with Jane Siberry and with kd lang. Reader has also frequently used langs bass player, David Pilch, and in 1994 went to Los Angeles to record her second, eponymous, solo album, produced by langs Ingenue co-producer Greg Penny. The result was something too slick and unrealized for Readers taste, and is her least satisfying musical experience to date. Her third solo effort, Candyfloss and Medicine, was a far more enriching experience, with Reader and Borowiecki co-producing.
For Reader, writing is purely organic and closely tied in with her voice. What I do is sit with people and feel the guitar player hit a note that makes me sing something else, and let my body go enough into that fearless place that I can completely express myself without worry.
I get an emotional sense of whatever it is Im singing. Thats what happens. Ill be singing and Ill break my own heart, and I wont know why. And then I have to figure out what the hells going on, what the hell am I thinking about when Im singing that.
She is happily ignorant of musical theory. Ive been surrounded by people who are very technically good at what they do and it can be threatening, because I make up chords. My vocabulary is limited on guitar but what I have got is well-used, and I dont want to go out into the world and do what Ive been doing in the past, which is totally rely on other writers to come and provide me with some platform.
So her next project will be an album of material composed alone. There is a part of me which is coming to the surface now which is saying very definitely to me that Im letting myself down by not trusting exactly what comes out of my own brain and putting it onto paper. And I have trusted it in the past, but its kind of scary to have a whole album of that.
|ANGELS & ELECTRICITY (COMPASS)
Angels & Electricity is as good an introduction to Eddi Reader as anything she has recorded, reminiscent of her first solo album, Mirmama, with its whimsical melodic musings and lyrics that are both heart-wrenching and nurturing. Most captivating are her vocals honest, pure and impossibly effortless and the intricate arrangements of deceptively simple tunes woven together by her band of merry collaborators, including Boo Hewerdine and Teddy Borowiecki. From the exuberant Prayer Wheel through the country-inspired feel of California to the intimate folk beat of Follow My Tears, Reader spans her usual diverse array of styles while never pausing long enough on any one to be pigeon-holed.