Glen Hansard's Drive All Night EP is a lovely slab of music from the leader of The Frames, one time member of The Commitments, half of The Swell Season and co-star / co-writer of of the poignant Academy Award winning song "Falling Slowly" from the 2008 film Once.
The main attraction however on this EP is Hansard's duet with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder on the title track, written by Bruce Springsteen.
Hansard and Vedder take ownership of this tune and build it into something fairly magnificent; it was never one of my favorite Springsteen tunes (as it began its existance as a dramatic mid-section to the Born To Run classic "Backstreets," tucked in to live performances in the late 70s). The song became an album track on its own in 1980's The River, and to my ear it always just kind of sat there -- it worked fine inside "Backstreets" yet felt like an orphan on the album.
Maybe the cliche of time healing comes into play here, but I can't help but feel that Hansard and Vedder tapped into something bigger in their duet on this version. Perhaps its the notion of two male voices singing of their longing for the same love that adds another layer of power to this version. Add the presence of Jake Clemons, nephew of recently deceased E-Street band saxophonist Clarence Clemons and you have a striking and even haunting version of this Springsteen tune for the ages. It all just works and its really nice to have this tune in a simple but nicely recorded version, presented on a 12-inch single format spinning at 45 RPM for superior fidelity.
And if that weren't enough, a portion of proceeds from the sale of this EP will be donated to music education in schools for kids! According to Hansard's website: "A portion of proceeds from the sale of the full "Drive All Night" EP (Vinyl, CD, Digital) will be donated to Little Kids Rock, the non-profit charity Clarence Clemons donated his energy towards. Little Kids Rock provides music education classes to K-12 students in public schools that have been stripped of their music programs. Learn more at www.littlekidsrock.org"
The three new Hansard tracks on the flip side also sound good, continuing some of the flavor of his first solo album last year, Rhythm and Repose. Perhaps a bit more upbeat, tracks like "Renata" have a sweet early Van Morrison flavor with it's hooky "la la la" chorus. More stunning still is the EP closer "Step Out of the Shadow" which is sung a capella with only a bit of reverb his accompaniment. Not many singers can pull off solo a capella songs. Pete Seeger comes to mind and, in concert, I know I've seen Elvis Costello do that quite stunningly.
Speaking of ...
Elvis Costello's Wise Up: Thought EP, subtitled "Remixes & Reworks" features re-imaginations of tracks from an already imaginative album, Wise Up : Ghost, issued earlier this year. Five of the seven remix tracks on this album are driven by Karriem Riggins, who -- according to the Wiki -- is a jazz drummer, hip hop producer and perhaps most significantly : "currently appears in the Diana Krall quartet."
For those of you not in the know, Ms. Krall is also the current Mrs. Elvis Costello.
This possibly explains why this Record Store Day limited edition CD release (the 10-inch LP didn't come out until December) came out at all; overall, I am pretty disappointed in it, at least for the $9 or so being charged for it.
Why was I disappointed? Well, they took a very interesting song, "Cinco Minutos Con Vos," which had an exotic Spanish language twist to it and added a kinda boring rap into the fray instead. The rap is not by Elvis, so its sort of neither here nor there. Maybe I'm missing something but this one left me really flat. I was hopeful about the potential for a remix of one of my favorite tracks on the deluxe edition of Wise Up Ghost, "The Puppet Has Cut His Strings," only to find it has been kinda glitched up and whittled down to a forgettable 50 second interlude (no vocals). My favorite track on the disc -- and the one that almost makes the $9 EP almost worthwhile is the Menahan Street Band rework version of "Tripwire" -- this adds (not entirely surprisingly) a haunting brass section to one of the more immediately melodic songs from the album. But these aren't just random horns; this is a horn section reminiscent and worthy of no less than Janis Joplin's Kosmic Blues Band from 1968. Or if you prefer a slightly more recent vintage comparison, the sometimes haunting and somber horn sounds conjured up on David Byrne's collaboration with Robert Wilson for The Knee Plays (from 1988).
The final track on the EP is a rework of "Walk Us Uptown," the kick off track on the original LP, by Antibalas.
Anyhow, there you have it. $9 for four full songs and a few partial "interludes" resulting (at least for this long time Costello fan) in an unsatisfying, rather forgettable collection of tracks. I would recommend going to iTunes and buying just the Menahan Street Band version of Tripwire for $1.29 and save yourself a few bucks. Or if you want the whole EP, its only $5 there, so that makes the purchase proposition entirely more reasonable. The cover art on this EP is not that amazing after all...
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.