My Darling Clementine - Country Darkness
Some projects ooze class before you even hear a single note and this is one of them. My Darling Clementine (Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish) have decided to to cover four Elvis Costello songs, that in itself is not unusual, Tasmin Archer did something similar back in 1993, but this project has a number of markers that hint at something special, that a degree of care and consideration has been taken. The title forinstance is another Costello song ( from The Delivery Man album ) though is one not on this particular release instead used as a wrapper for the for the overall project.
There is the also the choice of songs, these are songs only true fans would know of in the first place and at least one "That Day Is Done" until now has not really displayed any country roots. The most telling sign though is the presence of Steve Nieve, wizard of the "Keyboard Jungle" and long term Elvis Costello sidekick who will have seen these songs take shape and played them many times across the years.
It is Steve Nieve who makes his presence felt first on the piano intro to "Heart Shaped Bruise", not an easy song to cover when you bear in mind that the original was Elvis supported by Emmylou Harris but having compared both it feels like the voices in this latest version sit better together. In a reversal of the original it is Lou's female voice that we hear first before Michael eventually appears on the chorus and then moves on to take lead on the second verse. With sympathetic strings and final flourish from Steve, things get off to a great start.
It is not the first outing as duet for "Stranger In The House", Elvis having memorably done a version with George Jones, as well as 2 versions of his own, however the line up of My Darling Clementine allows for something different, a slight tweaking in the lyrics and suddenly we hear from both sides of a couple in turmoil. If anything this version is perhaps less immediately countryish than most its predecessors, courtesy of Steve Nieve's organ sound and prominent drum beat. Lou's vocals are wonderfully overwrought and Michael has the downbeat feel of a man who's house "feels like more like a hotel every day". The reworking of the lyrics works exceptionally well giving the song a completely new lease of life.
One of the tunes out of the relatively short lived Paul McCartney / Elvis Costello songwriting partnership is "That Day Is Done". It spawned the title of Paul McCartney's "Flowers In The Dirt" album and has also found Elvis recording a version with the Fairfield Four. It is probably the latter version that My Darling Clementine have gone to for inspiration, keeping the gospel feel, with Steve Nieve's piano highly prominent. As with "Stranger In The House", there is a slight tweaking of the lyrics to make work as a duet, and the arrival of a brass section duly takes the song to another level two thirds of the way through. and is there almost a Beatlesque nod to Mr McCartney in the coda? It is certainly a fine version that sits well alongside the two previously mentioned.
The final song of the EP, "I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came" originally appeared on Elvis's "Secret Profane & Sugarcane" album, a co write with Loretta Lynn. This version again benefits from being performed as a duet, and also from being that more overtly countrified than the more traditional Americana of the original version. The song has been well chosen, with the lyrics working exceptionally being split between the male and female voices of My Darling Clementine giving the song an almost conversational feel, and heightening the tension and paranoia in the lyrics of this illicit relationship.
The publicity makes mention of this being Vol 1, and with plenty more songs to choose from let's hope that there is perhaps more of this project to follow, as My Darling Clementine have managed to really get into the songs and create versions that will surely get the EC nod of approval.