Music

Ronnie Spector: English Heart

Yes, there are backup singers and playing, but Ronnie’s vocals are front and center. There are many times when it is just her soloing, or just a few quiet instruments behind her. The results are surprising.


Ronnie Spector

English Heart

Label: 429
US Release Date: 2016-04-08
Amazon
iTunes

Back in the early '60s, Phil Spector used to cloak the vocals of the Ronettes deep in his famous Wall of Sound. If you ever wondered how Ronnie (Spector) would sound without such overwhelming accompaniment, her latest disc would serve you well. Yes, there are backup singers and playing, but Ronnie’s vocals are front and center. There are many times when it is just her soloing, or just a few quiet instruments behind her. The results are surprising. Ronnie may not have a great voice from a technical standpoint. Her age shows in different ways; she sometimes warbles unnecessarily or stretches to hold a note that’s a little hard to keep. But that makes her more vulnerable and human.

The Ronettes were ruled by production. Songs such as “Be My Baby” almost seemed machine-made in their slick processing. Ronnie’s ability then was to offer a proud girl persona who embraced perfection: not a hair out of place on her distinctive hairstyle, not a wrong note or even the suggestion of one from her voice. In a time period when the forces in the industry and sadly, the general public, looked down on those where were black and a woman, Ronnie’s conceit served as a tonic slap in the face. She expressed overconfidence and dared the listener to find flaws-of which there were none.

Now Ronnie’s covering (mostly) the great British Invasion songbook, performing songs made famous by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Gerry and the Pacemakers, etc. These are acts she shared the bills with back in the Ronettes’ heyday. Like Ronnie’s music from that era, the originals by the Brits were brilliant pieces of pop. The new renditions have a more homemade appeal. The arrangements are simple to a fault. They let Ronnie’s voice shine through but do not do anything more than that. While Phil’s Wall of Sound may have somewhat hidden her talents, they also provided an aural framework that heightened the whole impact. Ronettes’ songs such as “Walking in the Rain” offered more pleasure than Ronnie’s voice alone (as wonderful as it was).

Therefore, those looking to find pristine versions of classic '60s pop will be disappointed. Bettye LaVette’s Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook would serve you better. English Heart is for those who prefer their music less polished, an ironic role reversal considering the careers of the two great singers (Lavette’s early records were more raw than her music today}.

Each of the 11 tracks on Ronnie’s new album suggests someone who is lost. This is almost literal: she is a fool on one song (“On Me Oh My I’m a Fool for You Baby”), tired on another (“Tire of Waiting”), misunderstood on a third (“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”), etc. There are no happy songs. The closest is the Dave Clark Five song “Because” as it promises that if given one kiss, she will be happy. However, she never gets the kiss, just the anticipation of one. Happy seems an exaggeration because we all know that love hurts, and the singer constantly proclaims her affection that may be unrequited for all we know.

Perhaps that is why the best song, and last cut on the album, is the saddest one (and the only one not to be from the British Invasion). Spector clumsily takes on the Bee Gees “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, and in this case clumsy is a compliment. The song’s narrator has been destroyed by love. When she talk/sings the intro, “I can think of younger days when living for my life…”, her trembling voice reveals the experience of age (“misty memories of days gone by”). The organ accompaniment gives the song a gospel feel, as if she’s praying to a higher power to help restore her ability to love. The original by the Bee Gees with its tight and expressive vocal harmonies showed the influence of the Ronettes and Phil Spector’s glistening Wall of Sound production. Al Green also did a notable soulful version that was impeccable in terms of Willie Mitchell’s studio wizardry and Green’s fabulous singing. Ronnie brings the song back to Earth by sounding as a soul who has known the pain of love. Her rendition may not be perfect, but it seems more honest and real. That can be said about all the covers on the new album.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image