Back for another bite into the Elvis Costello catalogue are My Darling Clementine, once again ably assisted by Steve Nieve, long time Costello cohort from his days as an Attraction, through to Grammy winning as an Imposter. The old adage says if ain't broke don't fix it and true to the formula of Vol 1, the songs chosen will probably not be immediately recognizable to those not familiar with EC's work but they are songs which although not written as duets work amazingly well in that format. This is not simply an EP of covers, these are reworkings done with a certain panache and a deep love and admiration of the source material for sure. This time round it also seems as if Steve's presence is even greater, adding even more authenticity as if any were required.
"Either Side Of The Same Town" first appeared on the album "The Delivery Man", it was a raw live sounding take that was a fusion of Americana and soul. The only other cover of the tune we've heard was by Howard Tate who emphasized the soulful aspects of the song, My Darling Clementine by making it a duet, infuse it with a real passion, and the characters of the song are vividly brought to life before our very ears! Michael Weston King's opening vocals have something of a rich Cash like timbre to them, and when Lou Dalgleish opens the second verse with "if you see me look surprised" there is a palpable tension in the air, that becomes almost electric with the "I might almost touch your sleeve as you to to leave.". It's a heartbreaking tale and the contributions of Steve Nieve are simply magnificent from the opening piano intro through to the delicious organ sound and the lovely keyboard flourishes throughout - something of a mini masterpiece.
"I Lost You" appeared on the post banking crisis album "National Ransom", was always a slightly curious track in that the lyrics which are deep and poetic were somewhat lost in the jaunty tune that came with it. The My Darling Clementine version starts off no less jaunty with Steve's high tempo piano line but by changing the song to a duet and tweaking the lyrics we get to hear both sides of the story of a romance gone badly wrong and that works exceptionally well
Just like a counterfeit you pass from palm to palm You chased the one you surely loved to someone else's arms
I mislaid my senses, now that's easy to say A fool who took his pleasure but then threw his love away
there's a nice little touch at the end where Michael sings the title of the song, on to have Lou retort back "You Lost Me"
"Different Finger" was Elvis's most overt country song since "Stranger In The House" had appeared on the free EP with "This Years Model". Musically it sounds a little out of place on the excellent "Trust" album, however it was to be a sign of things to come in the shape of the subsequent album "Almost Blue", an album of country covers. It's a tale that leaves little to the imagination about what is happening. an illicit rendezvous, "One night of glory", but it opens up the door for My Darling Clementine to work their magic. This is probably the most radical reworking of the EP as with the intro, the scene is set in a tex mex bar with the spanish guitar and accordion gently evoking the original tune in a slowed down format, before Lou kicks in with a splendid vocal on what becomes a wonderful if slightly eccentric take on the song, it's great fun
"Still Too Soon To Know" first appeared on the "Brutal Youth" album, a song almost completely driven by Elvis's prominent vocal line. There was previously a cover by Austin based band the Damnations that followed along similar lines adding in an acoustic guitar, but this version by splitting the vocal parts takes it to another level, It's now as if we are seeing an affair from the viewpoint of the partners left behind, Michael's vocals have real hurt and bitterness in them as he asks
"Do you love him
Or is it still too soon to know?
When I think back a couple of days
Before I found you in his spell
Was there a warning?
What can I say
Lou's vocals in contrast have an almost fatalistic sound to them, of someone who always knew this day was coming.
Are you sorry
Or is it still to soon to know?
It didn't take much to break us in two
For it was in the way that she came close to touching you
The look in your eyes
I thought I recognized
It is quite amazing how splitting the vocal lines completely has quite such an effect.
The Country Darkness Project has been a complete success, it has shone light on just how much effort Elvis Costello puts into his writing, it also highlights the effort that My Darling Clementine put in. faced with a choice of literally hundreds of tunes you can't help but admire their taste in choosing the songs that they could best work with.
Country Darkness Vol 2 is available as a Limited edition 12" vinyl release and will be on all Digital platforms
My Darling Clementine were to be supporting this Project with a massive tour - check their website for the rescheduled dates
Steve Nieve is doing a daily improvisation from France while we are in Lockdown, expect some damn fine piano playing as he plays his own tunes and those by others he has worked with including EC & Squeeze and watch out for the odd special guest or two.