Friday, 8 May 2015

Art of the Cover - John Cale's "Fragments of a Rainy Season" (1992)

Beautiful sparse cover art. 

Beautiful music.

Featuring a quote from Willy the Shake's playful Macbeth, the album cover was designed by noted conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth.

The comprehensive 20-track live album "Fragments of a Rainy Season" is truly a magnificent set. 

The collection covers John Cale's solo work from "Paris 1919" (1973) to "Songs For Drella" (1990) - on the way, illuminating a number of great songs in Cale's amazing, idiosyncratic catalogue. 

The songs were performed at various locations during his 1992 tour.

Accompanying himself only on piano (and guitar on four songs), Cale reduces each song to its essence. His playing ranges from lyrical ("Style it Takes") to chaotic ("Guts," "Fear"), but the overall mood is a reflective one that suits these songs well. Most of these compositions, in fact, have never been on more effective display.  
"Chinese Envoy" and "Thoughtless Kind," both from the dissonant "Music for a New Society" (1982), are clear and melancholy in this setting, as are "Buffalo Ballet" and "I Keep a Close Watch." The three songs from the uneven, orchestrated "Falklands Suite" are given a much more forthright interpretation, with "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" coming out as one of those rare cases of a poem set to music without being trivialized. Cale's famous spooky deconstruction of  Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," carried along mostly by a slow, repetitive piano figure, shows up as well; his previous versions are fine, but this one squeaks by as the winner.  
The closer, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," also trumps the studio version that appeared on the Cohen tribute, "I'm Your Fan." The previous recording seemed rushed, but here Cale takes his time with the transcendently mournful lyrics, his voice at points virtually cello-like in its resonance.  
Simply put, "Fragments" provides a consistency and depth that, as a whole, few of Cale's studio albums do. He has done himself as well as his fans a great service, and for those who have yet to discover Cale, this is arguably the place to start. Choosing between this one and the lush "Paris 1919" requires a coin toss, but anyone interested in the searching, melodic side of this man's very unique work should probably own them both.


1. A Child's Christmas In Wales
2. Dying On The Vine
3. Cordoba
4. Darling I Need You
5. Paris 1919
6. Guts
7. Fear (Is A Man's Best Friend)
8. Ship Of Fools
9. Leaving It Up To You
10. The Ballad Of Cable Hogue
11. Thoughtless Kind
12. On A Wedding Anniversay
13. Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed
14. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
15. Buffalo Ballet
16. Chinese Envoy
17. Style It Takes
18. Heartbreak Hotel
19. (I Keep A) Close Watch
20. Hallelujah

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