An album of Bacharach songs? From Japan? Produced by Jim O’Rourke? Imagine our elation on learning that the record of our dreams is in fact a reality! What’s more, the album is just as amazing as we would have hoped.
Whilst we don’t know the precise details of the recording yet or how this project came about, it appears that Jim O’Rourke played most of the instruments and was assisted by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche on drums. The sound of the album is pure O’Rourke, and works as a really nice companion piece to last year’s brilliant The Visitor.
Jim has tackled the songs in a quite different manner to projects such as the ostensibly similar Tzadik album of Bacharach songs, eschewing jarring avant-gardisms in favour of arrangements that are in tune with the songs’ original tone and style, but also cast them in a new light.
To be totally honest, the vocal performances are somewhat variable in quality, but all are performed with genuine enthusiasm, love and respect for the source material.
The album begins with a wonderfully louche version of “Close To You” by Yellow Magic Orchestra founder Haruomi Hosono. In typically irreverent fashion, Hosono changes the lyrics to make the song a narcissistic paean to himself.
Thurston Moore would probably be the first to admit that his laconic drawl isn’t best suited to melodically adventurous material like “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me,” but the uncluttered arrangement suits his style perfectly. You can hear his performance on the TwentyFourBit blog.
Next up, Sotaisei Riron vocalist and artistic polymath Etsuko Yakushimaru performs a beautifully hushed half-speed duet with Jim O’Rourke on the obscure track “Anonymous Phone Call”, previously best known as a Bobby Vee B-side.
Then comes one of the album’s definite highlights, a fairly straight cover of the theme to Peter Sellers’s 1966 crime caper After The Fox, with veteran Japanese free jazzers Akira Sakata and Masaya Nakahara hamming it up alongside O’Rourke’s own mellifluous tones.
Here’s the original, as performed by Peter Sellers and The Hollies.
Singer/songwriter Yoichi Aoyama then performs an endearingly passionate rendition of “You’ll Never Get To Heaven”, before Shibuya-kei legend and O’Rourke muse Kahimi Karie weighs in with a heartbreakingly understated take on “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”. This is another album highlight, with (one assumes) Glenn Kotche’s soft touch on the drums and O’Rourke’s gently droning arrangement combining beautifully.
Next up, a nicely rootsy organ-drenched version of “Don’t Make Me Over” voiced by Japanese gospel singer Chu Kosaka, followed by Towa Tei and World Standard collaborator Mitsuko Koike‘s slightly irksome performance of (the admittedly already irksome song) “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, which is at least enlivened by some Van Dyke Parks-esque steel drums and enveloping flutes.
Yoshimi (of Boredoms and OOIOO fame) attempts a take on the challenging “Say A Little Prayer For Me”. There’s a karaoke-ish quality to this track, but Jim’s arrangement is a fine example of his brand of rustic experimentalism.
“Trains and Boats and Planes” is the only song that Jim performs alone, and is another high point of the album, with an arrangement that is intriguingly similar to the obscure ’70s Bacharach track “Time And Tenderness”.
The record is rounded off with the immortal “Walk On By”, performed by Donna Taylor. It’s another immaculate piece of production and, although the vocals may be a little flighty for my personal taste, the presence of an actual member of Bacharach’s own musical ensemble does lend the project a well-deserved sense of authenticity and kudos.
This is an outstanding album, and the sort of release that Jim O’Rourke fans like ourselves had dreamed of since his peerless Bacharach-influenced solo records, Eureka (featuring a cover of “Something Big”), Insignificance and Halfway To A Threeway. It’s presently only available in Japan, but importing is a must!
We’ll leave you with one of our favourite (and, we think, most spookily Jim O’Rourke-esque) Burt Bacharach songs, “Hasbrook Heights”.
“Hasbrook Heights” by Burt Bacharach