Already sounding of the era, it’s only fitting that Rumer’s B-Sides & Rarities is made up largely of ‘60s and ‘70s soft rock and singer-songwriter staples. Her crystalline, impeccably precise vocals are perfectly suited to the slick arrangements and performances associated with this particular era and style of pop music. And since so many of these songs were and are lovely to begin with, if not necessarily critically revered, her loving renditions simply serve to reaffirm their overall pleasantness.
Her take on Christopher Cross’ “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” deviates little from the original, remaining close in both form and arrangement with Rumer sounding as ever like a slightly more assured Karen Carpenter. Giving the song an even smoother (if that’s possible) take, Rumer’s voice is better suited to the material than Cross’ in that hers is a voice in possession of a certain level of weightless effortlessness that feels unhurried, unforced and completely natural. It’s an immensely pleasing and calming voice that manages to toe the line between beauty and pastiche.
Similarly, “Sailing” is slowed even more than the original, given a balladic reading that manages to sound just that much more profound than Cross’ somewhat silly lyrics and delivery would have most believe. Given the level of ironic detachment and loosely- defined enjoyment afforded these so-called “yacht rock” songs over the last decade or so, it’s refreshing to hear someone approach the material with a sort of wide-eyed wonder and earnestness that carries not a trace of irony.
Rather than using the songs as the basis for humorous interpretation, Rumer approaches these songs as someone who feels them deeply and wishes to do them justice. In this approach, she’s far more successful, imbuing her performance with a level of reverence not generally afforded such ephemeral pop fluff. It’s a refreshing take that allows these songs to be heard again for the first time.
Taking on a pair of Bacharach/David compositions in “Hasbrook Heights” and “Alfie”, she proves herself a deft interpreter, capable of a level of subtle nuance in her phrasing that would no doubt make the composer proud. Notoriously tricky arrangements and atypical in structure, Bacharach/David compositions have long been a favorite of many artists, but rarely are as successful as they are here. “Alfie” in particular, with its melodic jumps that tend to trip up lesser performers, is delivered with the same pleasant effortlessness as nearly everything else on the album.
While much of the material itself can be somewhat hard to take seriously (especially “It Might Be You (Theme From Tootsie)”), the casually reverent way in which she approaches these songs makes it hard to adopt an even remotely jaded stance. Rather there’s such a genuine affection inherent in her performances that it’s clear this is the era of pop music in which she finds herself most comfortable. It’s little wonder then that these songs could just as easily have slotted into her most recent collection of original material. In the hands of a lesser interpreter, it would be nearly impossible for these songs not to border on the parodic.
While many of these songs have been done nearly to death (does the world really need another version of “Moon River” or “Here Comes the Sun”? Turns out it does), Rumer manages to inject enough of herself into fairly tame arrangements to make them worth checking out. With a voice as pure as hers, it’s extremely difficult to find much in the way of fault. Her reading of Randy Newman’s “Marie” in particular is nothing short of heartbreaking.
The collection is not without its flaws, however. “Separate Lives”, a live duet with Stephen Bishop, sounds more like a contemporary Christian anthem than a soft pop classic. While their voices manage a relatively pleasant pairing, much like Karen Carpenter, her voice is best served solo or in tandem with itself (see her unlikely take on Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel”). Wisely, the only other pairing on the album, a lovely rendition of “That’s All”, finds Rumer accompanied only by Michael Feinstein on piano.
By no means essential, B-Sides & Rarities is a fine stopgap release for those already enamored of Rumer’s previous releases. Fans of soft pop/rock, singer-songwriters and musicians who place greater focus on subtlety and nuance in their performances will find much to like here.
"PopMatters is looking for smart music writers. We're looking for talented writers with deep genre knowledge of music and its present and…READ the article