My Darling Clementine (from the album Country Darkness available on Fretstore Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
The premise behind Country Darkness, the new, and fifth, album from My Darling Clementine, certainly grips the imagination. Husband-and-wife team Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, who comprise the band, set out to explore the back catalogue of Elvis Costello in order to shine a light on his lesser-celebrated songs. This is no simple covers-record, however. My Darling Clementine have chosen to highlight works which they believe showcase the darker, Outlaw Country side of Costello, bringing out themes of heartbreaking Folk and Gothic sensibilities in the grand Americana tradition.
The duo seem perfectly suited to such a task. King has a long and respectable resume in the Alt Country world, including leadership of The Good Sons, collaborations with Townes Van Zandt, and globetrotting shows alongside Nick Cave, Arlo Guthrie and others. Dalgleish is no less an intriguing proposition; a playwright, pianist, dancer and singer of rare quality. Her backstory, indeed, reads like an adventure novel. Lending further credence to Country Darkness is the presence of Rock 'N Roll Hall-of-Famer Steve Nieve, a sideman and integral part of Elvis Costello's sound since 1977. For this project, Nieve contributed not only his considerable keyboard talent, but also aided in the selection and arrangement of the songs. Backing is provided by Colin Elliott (bass), Shez Sheridan (guitars), Dean Beresford (drums) and horn-players Matt Holland and Martin Winning.
The opening track reaches back to the not-so-distant past, with a re-imagining of “Either Side of the Same Town” from Costello's 2004 album, The Delivery Man. It's an assured start. The ying/yang of King's assured, rough-edged vocals and Dalgleish's quavering sweetness works well. Both are possessed of a charming, naïve quality. The song feels somehow both lighter and darker than the original. It floats nicely, yet the sky through which it drifts is dense with dark clouds. Beautiful keys and guitar; the lilting backbeat; My Darling Clementine's harmonizing; the components make for a winning combination. As the track drifts on, you find yourself able to put Costello's voice from your mind and immerse yourself into a familiar, yet different world. This, it transpires, is remarkably true for each of the twelve songs presented here.
“I'll Wear it Proudly”, from 1986’s King of America, glitters with a dust-and-diamonds Nashville sheen, delicate, descending arpeggios and subtle, finger-picked guitar. “Why Can't a Man Stand Alone” sparkles through a sparsely-adorned opening, largely driven by acoustic guitar, before beautiful, subtle horns, and percussion join the show. It feels like a classic 70’s Stevie Wonder take, eliciting a remarkable softness and delicacy. “The Crooked Line” takes things up-tempo, scattered with instantly-recognizable Nieve vamps and rolls, strangely reversing the formula from the original version's County-fiddle feel to something approaching a 'traditional' Costello sound. As with every track on this album, it is accomplished with some aplomb. Perhaps the finest compliment I can give “Powerless”, the thirteenth, and final, song, an original composition from King and Dalgleish, is that it fits seamlessly amongst the others.
It is always difficult to foresee how fans will react to such a work. That Steve Nieve features so heavily should serve to assuage such fears. In the final analysis, there is no doubt that My Darling Clementine are genuine in their respect for and admiration of Costello. They are also possessed of the talent and taste to bring something new to the table. Apart from anything else, Country Darkness serves to remind us of the strength and breadth of Costello's song-writing. My Darling Clementine can be justifiably proud of that. My only quibble lies with the album's title. There is darkness here, surely, both in the lyrics and arrangements (on certain tracks more than others). Always, however, the sheer exuberance of Costello's love for song can't help but shine through. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of My Darling Clementine from AMAZON
For more information head over to the My Darling Clementine website