Wednesday, 29 July 2009
A Casa Verde is the debut solo album from The Wedding Present's American bassist and confirmed Anglophile Terry de Castro. The twelve songs contained on the record are all cover versions, each one originally written and performed by a friend or previous musical collaborator. Released via frontman of The Wedding Present David Gedge's label Scopitones, it is an album that is irretrievably in thrall to its influences yet subtly reworks and reinvents the source material.
Whether a vanity project or a way for an artist to recognise and pay dues to their influences collections of cover versions are an intriguing yet not always successful concept. An obvious antecedent to A Casa Verde would be David Bowie's Pin Ups, a collection of songs by his late 60s contemporaries many of whom he had shared stages or played in studios with.
De Castro refines the original material through her own aesthetic; the sonic palette on each song is extended to include brushed drums, piano, banjo and steel guitar which augment the original framework. And the overall effect is unmistakeably American in its aspect. That de Castro should have chosen such a palette is not surprising, despite the fact that she has spent the best part of the last two decades dividing living between Britain and America. Migrants traditionally suffer three dislocations; loss of roots, linguistic and social. So it is no surprise that for her first solo effort de Castro remodels the majority of these songs with the wide-eyed innocence of Americana.
The album opens with 'Dalliance' and is a case in point. The Wedding Present's original, the opening track from 1991's Seamonsters, was produced by Steve Albini and is in equal parts taut, wiry, frenzied, vascular and rapacious. However de Castro's version reduces the urgency and intensity settling instead for an intimate depiction of the lamentation and heartache that is at the song's locus. Acoustic and pedal steel guitars are gently layered alongside de Castro's hushed vocals which are at once feminine and masculine. The song itself reverses and interrogates gender roles, with Gedge in the original version singing from the viewpoint of a jilted mistress.
This sets the tone for the remainder of the album. The songs occupy a sphere of dark country tinged ballads ('Glorious', 'The Sun Is Always Sweetest' ) or upbeat indie-pop ('America in '54', 'The Great Avalanche'), while torch song 'To Love You' by Goya Dress (who de Castro also played bass with) closes the album. The album is most successful during these quieter and reflective moments, particularly when Astrid Williamson (one of the songwriters de Castro pays homage to) lends her ethereal backing vocals.
A Casa Verde is an attempt to document and interact with a life spent working as a musician. The extensive annotated sleeve notes reveal an intricate web of personal histories, while the whole project is suffused with nostalgia as it peers into and then honours the past. As a listener it was also nostalgic to read band's names long forgotten...Cinerama, Drugstore, Goya Dress, Downpilot and other 90s alternative staples. Suddenly being 15 and reading fanzines you got by sending £1.50 and a stamped addressed envelope to a remote part of the British Isles (more if they sent a cassette) feels a very long time ago.
It must be said that de Castro is comfortable enough in her capabilities as a musician to not be awestruck by either the song or the songwriter's own personal mythology. This means that she is able to sufficiently adapt the relevant songs to her strengths. Making sense of life through music is the spirit of the album, and it is an ethos to be commended. Covers albums are rarely essential but Casa de Verde does standalone as a charming take on myth and an appreciation of the songwriting tradition.
This article was originally produced for http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/. To view the music review of A Casa Verde by Terry de Castro please click on the article title.