Dave Stewart – The Blackbird Diaries Album Review

We’re pleased to bring you today another in the series of features by Chris Wikstrom, today he reviews Dave’s album The Blackbird Diaries. Please note the album will not be available until March 2011.  10 lucky people won a copy of the album on a Nokia N8 phone, and guests who attended the recent concert in Nashville were given a strictly limited edition version on vinyl.

Dave Stewart – The Blackbird Diaries

Advice. Do not get into a name-dropping competition with Dave Stewart. He has collaborated with them all; at least quite a few of the biggest names in rock’n’roll. Bob Dylan, Sir Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, U2, Mick Jagger, Sinead O’Connor, Marianne Faithfull, to name just a few.

This summer, however, Dave Stewart decided it was high time to record an album under his own name. In other words, a new Dave Stewart solo album. It had been 13 years since his last one (not counting ”The Dave Stewart Songbook”, volume 1).

Due to different circumstances including volcanos and heritage guitar shops, Stewart ended up in The Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. And for this we shall be thankful, very thankful. After listening to the new album – ”The Blackbird Diaries” – I can only conclude that the stay in Nashville has paid off beautifully. Dave Stewart really should do this sort of thing more often!

”The Blackbird Diaries” isn’t the work of an artist looking over his shoulder or worrying about his reputation. Dave Stewart has always been an innovator and can never be accused of playing it safe. Instead, he is an artist who always wants to explore new musical territories; this time together with a band of first rate Nashville musicians.

And the new musical milieu has doubtless added a welcome freshness to the whole recording. But even though there is a complete change of direction for this album, the characteristic elemen

ts of the Dave Stewart sound at the same time remain strong within ”The Blackbird Diaries”. The new album houses some of Stewart’s most impressive songwriting to date and the music is also the sound of a musician remembering that his primary gift is that of a spontaneous simplicity.

Stewart is always strongest when he’s most straightforward. And here he is in a relaxed and playful mood and sounds happy, as if enjoying himself immensely. Which is also probably the case! The music on “The Blackbird Diaries” are all songs high on melody and craftsmanship! There isn’t a bad song here. In fact, each song is a minor masterpiece!

Opener  “So Long Ago” sets the pace, great guitar work, bluesy and melodic. And together with great lyrics celebrating the blues and some of its icons this is one of Stewart’s very best and, in a

way, also most personal songs. If you want to understand Stewart as a musician, I think this composition is a very good start! The songs opening lines refer directly to ”Deep Blues”: the award-winning blues documentary Stewart produced in the early ’90s to pay tribute to some of his musical heroes:

”Well, I remember Jessie Mae / and I remember how she used to wail / back in Juniors yard / it was so so long ago” /—/ R.L. Burnside in the afternoon / ’Jumper On The Line’ / well he taught me that tune /…./ You all gave it to me / I could feel it in my bones /  just needed to see / past the Rolling Stones….”

Stewart is a damn fine story teller and ”The Blackbird Diaries” is indeed an album of story songs.  ”Gyspy Girl”, ”Magic In The Blues” and ”The Well” to name a few, all have the structure of a tale. ”Magic In The Blues”, for example, tells the story of how Stewart leaves his home in the Northeast of England only to eventually end up in London town where he later meets his future partner in crime, Annie Lennox:

”I made it down to London town / I didn’t have a dime / Someone said they found a girl / I knew that she was mine / Well, I saw her through the window / she acted so confused / but I could tell she knew / if we became each others muse / then we would hit the news / making magic in the blues”

 

Throughout the album Stewart displays an impressive tuneful and lyrical touch. His use of language is, as always, clever and refreshing. In the lyrics to the brilliant ”Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” a well-known friend of Stewart unexpectedly appears in Stewart’s bed:

”All of this would never have happened / if Bryan Ferry didn’t sleep in my bed/ ever since that day / down in Saint -Tropez / I just can’t get you out of my head”

”The Blackbird Diaries” is also, at times, a work of considerable beauty. Martina McBride makes an excellent cameo on the fragile and heartfelt ballad ”All Messed Up”. And when, midway through, the song halts for a sublime violin section that swells up behind them, tears are not far away. And in ”Bulletproof Vest” featuring the great Colbie Caillat, Stewart perhaps delivers his tenderest and most intimate vocal performance ever when singing:

”What are you trying to hide / you won’t let me inside / the fear is only in your mind / I can see it in your eyes”

There are so many great songs on this album – the haunting ”One Way Ticket To The Moon” is definitely a favourite and so is ”Stevie baby” with its recurring guitar riff. It’s almost impossible to get it out of your head once you’ve heard it! Stewart also proves he’s capable of penning a country-ish strum in the charming ”Country Wine” featuring the great Secret Sisters.

”Don’t you wanna stay with me, for the rest of your life”, Stewart asks in the raunchy ”Beast of Fame”. After this album, I think we all agree on the answer!

Chris Wikstrom

 

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