By Jack Sharkey, June 16, 2017

 

Annie Lennox is The Voice of the 1980s. Lots of other singers lay claim to the title but in terms of innovation, boundary pushing and sheer chops, the 1980s were Lennox’ decade and we all just happened to live in it. If you weren’t born in the 80s or are unfamiliar with Annie Lennox you have some catching up to do as regards female superstar singers.

 

Nostalgia was released in 2014, but the release date of a record full of songs from the 1930s and 40s doesn’t really matter much does it? If you’re a fan of great singers – buy this record. If you’re a fan of the Great American Songbook – buy this record, and if you’re a fan of the proper way to produce and engineer an immensely talented singer – well, you get my point.

 

Am I a giant fan of this record? Absolutely, for all of the reasons listed above. I’m typically suspect of current stars making records showcasing their ability to take ownership of standards like the songs on this set, because they usually disappoint. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s 2014 album Cheek To Cheek is a great example of a listless and sloppy attempt to make music that instead turned into a shameless money grab. So short of Natalie Cole’s 1991 retro-record Unforgettable, I avoid such traps.

Annie Lennox - Nostalgia

 

  • Released: 2014
  • Produced by: Mike Stevens and Annie Lennox
  • Engineered and Mixed by: Mike Stevens and Cameron Craig
  • Recorded at: Sheen Lane and State of the Ark Studios – London

 

Bluenote records did a fabulous job with the packaging and production of this record. An old-school gate fold with a twelve page full-color insert (okay, it’s mostly pictures of Lennox being artsy but that’s what we buy records for isn’t it?) The vinyl copy was a nice well-cut 180gm and the sonics are as good as you’re going to get on vinyl. Nostalgia was a little pricey, but absolutely worth it if music is your thing. Fun to note that no download card was included – probably because this isn’t computer/Smartphone music, its easy chair and paying-attention music. And for that we should be thankful.

 

Side One opens with the Hoagie Carmichael standard Memphis in June, and from the Victrola opening of Sammy Fain in 1945 to the lush beauty of the tune and Lennox’ superb instrument you get the feeling you’re about to embark on a journey that is at once timeless and urgent. A time that only exists in conscience – front porches, heat, train whistles and a sense of societal connection pour from the speakers.  The Fender Rhodes and lilting strings in the opening of Georgia On My Mind pay homage to Ray Charles and the hot red-clay backroads of his home state, but only a singer of Lennox’ caliber could make you forget (at least temporarily) Charles’ reading of another Hoagy Carmichael tune – and that’s something not a lot of singers could even attempt, let alone pull off.

 

Blues fans will be slightly pushed out of bounds the first time they hear Lennox sing I Put A Spell On You. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ version is the only legitimate one in existence but Lennox just does what she does without trying to be anything other than herself and the song works magnificently in its own understated and intense way. George Gershwin’s Summertime has been covered countless times so we’re all a little jaded with it; in spite of the fact she sings the notes off the chart, Lennox breaks no new ground with her rendition but she doesn’t lose any either.

 

Recalling Miles in his Kind Of Blue phase, I Cover the Waterfront is as soft and gentle as a warm blanket on a cold night, which stands in stark opposition to Strange Fruit. Written by Lewis Allan in 1939 and famously recorded (and singularly mastered by Billie Holiday) Strange Fruit is a tough song to listen to once you understand what the song is about. There can never be any joy or comfort in this song, and it was an odd addition to the set. Lennox does justice to the rage and emotion of Holiday’s original and if this cut brings one person to the original who might otherwise never have heard it – then it’s a perfect addition.

 

Side B opens with another Holiday standard with God Bless the Child and Lennox’ ability to own the lyrics is more evident here than on Strange Fruit. If you’re a fan of listening to recorded vocals this cut is perfect. Truly delightful in its poignancy, You Belong To Me would have been a hit for Eurythmics at their peak and it should have been a hit for Lennox today. The same applies for September In the Rain – another eighty year old song Lennox makes contemporary and her own. I Can Dream, Can’t I? and The Nearness of You are two of the most iconic love songs of the World War II Era, and Lennox pours all of the longing and hurt of the era into her renditions – they are simply wonderfully sad and poignant.

 

The set closes with Duke Ellington’s 1931 Jump Blues masterpiece Mood Indigo, and Lennox and Stevens pull out all of the stops. With a nod to the close harmonies of Depression-era vocal pioneers like the Boswell and Andrews Sisters, the languid pace and rich instrumentation would have made the Duke proud.

 

This is a serious record and the absence of a download card absolutely sends that message loud and clear – the artist wants you to listen to this record and experience it as a singular event. If you can pull yourself away from your phone long enough to let Lennox carry you away to a timeless place that exists only in our collective conscience, you’ll find you’re better off for the experience.

 

Plus, it sounds magnificent.  

 

Listened to on a VPI Scout turntable connected via phono-pre to LS50W.