Although Tom Jones & The Cardigans’ zingy version of Burning Down The House is actually among the more recent recordings of this compilation, last year’s radio overkill has it sounding like one of the oldest. Familiarity should not, however, overshadow the fact that it’s a sizzling duet. Tom Jones has a happy knack for choosing the right song, or the right project, and always bring something fresh to it—a talent that has long propelled his career (along with an almighty voice of course) in lieu of any discernible songwriting talent of his own.
Less familiar and also less likely to have the same impact on female undergarments as either the Welsh warbler, or their name suggests, are The Magnetic Fields. There is little attraction in their intentionally (not that it helps) silly novelty ditty, Absolutely Cuckoo. A lyric which is not, as far as I’m aware, a reference to Imani Coppola’s I’m A Tree. Coppola is a multi-instrumentalist from a musical family (no not THAT Coppola family) but a few violin chips fail to raise her contribution here above some unstartling rap-pop.
And now to the good stuff. Of which there’s plenty. Taj Mahal’s Woulda Coulda Shoulda is hardly a reference to his career. He would, he could and he has for more than forty years. As much as his namesake is pure white marble, Taj is pure blues. His music is raw, rootsy and irresistible, seemingly emanating from the very fibre of his being.
Annie Lennox is an altogether glossier artist. Her solo career featuring even more polished arrangements than her Eurythmics’ pop gems with Dave Stewart. Complementing the lustre has always been a facet of quirky cleverness, in evidence here in the shape of the off-the-wall brass lines that grace the latter verses of Train In Vain. The song is an old classic of The Clash, with this version lifted from Lennox’s 1995 Medusa covers album. The vocal, of course, is soulful and solid as always.
Somewhere between Taj Mahal’s grit and Lennox’s sheen is Wynnona Judd’s muscly folk-pop You Are. A rather saccharine chorus only mildly impairs some tasty acoustic guitar work and the strong tonal phrasing of Judd’s vocals.
Rounding out an excellent, if unadventurous, compilation is Van Morrison’s Someone Like You. An obvious candidate for a romantic film title tie-in, it is also a mightily beautiful song, containing a good deal more layered subtlety than—with all due respect to the late great Big O—Pretty Woman. Although I suspect that the comedy romance this soundtrack is attached to is unlikely to match the iconic status of Julia’s happy-ever-after hooker.
Published July 12, 2001