‘Let The Record Show…’ was suitably announced on St. Patricks day this year and follows hot on the heels (four years, dwarfing the previous gap of 27 years) of the unanimously praised comeback LP ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’. It’s only the seventh album from Kevin Rowland in the thirty-five years since and including the first and is the second comprised fully of cover versions. The first, 1999’s solo ‘My Beauty’ was explained by Kevin as being not a covers album, but an album of his take on some of his favourite songs. It was panned, reputably sold less than a thousand copies and remains out of print. This new album has also been proclaimed not an album of cover versions, but a loosely themed album of recordings of other people’s songs in Dexys own unique style. So should alarm bells be ringing? No way. ‘My Beauty’ had its charms and was unfairly panned, and this is quality throughout. But inspired? Let’s see…
At heart this an easy listening album, it’s pleasant and straightforwardly arranged, wonderfully crooned in places. It’s the sort of album that back in 1980 most Dexys (Midnight Runners) fans would have ran from. Yet, it is, as with most of Rowlands and Dexys recordings undeniably informed by punk, a movement with which Kevin flirted (The Killjoys) and which certainly enabled his unique vision and attitude a place in a business that previously wouldn’t have allowed him in. As always with Dexys personnel evolves album to album, ‘One Day…’s main collaborator, one-time Style Councillor Mick Talbot the most notable absentee, though Helen O’Hara, Kevin’s chief partner in crime from ‘Too Rye Aye’ through too ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ makes an appearance and has performed on recent promotional activities with the band. At least three of the songs here were planned for an 84/85 Dexys album of the same title that never happened, so there is a passion and a belief in these songs that shines through.
Vocally when Kevin sings he nails it. But he doesn’t always sing through this album, some tracks having an almost spoken, certainly intoned vocal track. For me this simply doesn’t work. I want to hear Rowland sing, he's quite simply one of the most inspirational vocalists in popular music ever. So ok, he’s a much older man now (we all are) but does he do enough on this album? Opener ‘Women of Ireland’ is basically an instrumental. You can’t go wrong with the Bee Gee’s ‘To Love Somebody’ and Dexys lay down a great version here, covering both the intoned vocal in the verses and the crooned vocal in the chorus. Even some of the pop songs here date back much further though, ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ first appeared in 1933 and carries possibly the most soulful vocal here. Some of the Irish on the album goes back much further, some having roots in poetry and the 1700’s, though some comes from more modern sources such as Phil Coulter.
Other pop (Country/Soul) covers include Rod Stewart (‘You Wear It Well’), LeAnn Rimes (Diane Warrens ‘How Do I Live’), Joni Mitchell (‘Both Sides Now’) and Johnny Cash (’40 Shades of Green’). It’s a bit odd in fact to hear Dexys do a fairly straight guitar led version of a Rod Stewart song, but then again as someone who’s familiar with ‘My Beauty’ there’s nothing odd about Dexys when you expect the unexpected. ‘How Do I Live’ might also seem an odd choice but again remember on his previous ‘covers’ project we also got songs such as the George Benson and Whitney Houston classic ‘The Greatest Love of All’, ‘I believe the children are our future’ etc.
Also, not wishing to sound like a man who works in a hi-fi store, which I undoubtedly am, but if you do listen to this album you have to do so on a half decent system. A car stereo or MP3 simply doesn’t carry the feeling. Listening to it as I am writing this my previous grumbles about semi intoned vocals actually feel a little redundant. So sorry about that! The most soulful sounding track is without doubt ‘Grazing in The Grass’ a cover of a 1969 pop and R&B hit from Friends of Distinction, though the song typically has a fairly complicated backstory, coming from the late 60’s Jazz scene and reputably originally about the smoking of marijuana..
So in short, this a mixed bag. It generally works very well, but Dexys 2016 are fairly much an acquired taste, the days of chart topping anthems long gone (though this album did enter the UK charts at no.10), and it’s comforting to know or at least feel that nothing will come out under the name of Dexys that is in any way questionable as far as quality goes. Is it inspired? For me no, it’s not the joy ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’ was, and as such I eagerly wait and hope for at least one more Dexys collection of originals. It is definitely worth investigating if you’ve ever had an interest in any of Rowlands earlier works. However, I am left a little confused by this strange mix of eclectic songs performed in a way that never threatens or challenges but yet that is still informed by punk and the past. And the packaging and vision is as always with Dexys superb too, a deluxe edition has a great film about the album and some interesting though superfluous instrumental and solo vocal versions of the songs. And it is Dexys, still making and releasing music in 2016. Which for me is enough anyway.