Chasing The Dragon Audiophile Recordings [Release date: 08.18]
available at chasingthedragon.co.uk
We’ve had Alone (2011) and its companion release Naked Music (2016) – albums that saw Irish singer songwriter Eleanor McEvoy retire to the sanctuary of a sleepy Norfolk studio to revisit past releases ‘solo ‘, along with a handful of covers and a few new songs, sung with just her guitar (acoustic, electric, or bass), piano or simply a capella.
Ever the audiophile (her long term partner is, after all, a sound engineer), Forgotten Dreams takes the concept to perhaps its ultimate conclusion – a ‘direct cut’ album – a live studio recording cut to vinyl in real time, but also available in CD and various hi-res digital download formats including DSD (the encoding used in SACD production), and double rate DSD (which uses sampling rates 128 times greater than for CD). And for those with really deep pockets (and the right equipment) master tape copies are also available.
Recorded at Air Studios in May this year and produced by Chasing The Dragon Audiophile Recordings’ Mike and Francoise Valentine, it’s a format that leave little scope for bum notes, hiccups, or breaking wind. No pressure then, one take is all you get and that’s it – warts and all, forever etched into the highest quality vinyl.
As a foil for the project, Eleanor is accompanied on all 10 tracks by pianist Damon Butcher (ex-Beautiful South) who featured on her last studio album The Thomas Moore Project (2017). He gets equal billing (on the rear sleeve, at least) while Eleanor sings and selectively plays acoustic and electric guitars, piano and violin.
As with Alone and Naked Music, there’s a limited amount of fresh song writing – a handful of new songs – ‘The Spanish Word For Heart Is Corazon’, ‘Gimme Some Wine’ and ‘Pink Champagne’ – all of which were road tested on her last UK tour, and ‘Fragile Wishes’, and ‘If You Had A Heart’ (a co-write with J(ennifer?) Kimball and Henry Priestman (of The Christians renown).
Two traditional arrangements – ‘The Meeting Of The Waters’ and ‘Carolan’s Concerto’, and a cover of The Pointer Sisters 1981 hit ‘Slow Hand’ (a highlight on her last tour), alongside two re-workings ‘The Way You Wear Your Troubles’ (from Out There (2006)) and ‘Not Quite Love’ (from her eponymous 1993 debut) complete the set.
As for warts, well, Eleanor’s performance is, true to form, blemish free and it’s clear from the first listen why her current ‘go to’ keyboard player was brought along for the ‘gig’ – the warmth and depth of his grand piano is the perfect foil for her rich vocals and for exploiting the recording environment.
And sonically, you simply can’t complain (although there are a couple of ambient gremlins from switching instruments that wouldn’t ‘normally’ happen, or would have been removed in post-production). I’m not sure, vocally, that she’s ever sounded better on record.
Particularly impressive, for a ‘one take’, to say nothing of the bravery of the finger clicks in the fade of ‘Pink Champagne’ where sweaty palms could have been disastrous.
It’s a recording that benefits a generous twist of the volume knob in order to fully appreciate the subtleties of the performance, highlights including the juxtaposition of the grand and electric pianos on ‘The Meeting Of The Waters’, the fresh lease of life given to the mildly tijuana style arrangement of ‘Not Quite Love’, the sixties imbibed delicacy of ‘If You Had A Heart’, and the ‘in the room’ vibrancy of the semi classical violin on ‘Carolan’s Concerto’.
Elsewhere, it’s ‘business as normal’ in terms of quality control, although personally I thought the guitar and piano parts a little at odds on the revisiting of ‘The Way You Wear Your Troubles’, and I’d like to have heard ‘Slow Hand’ given a more sparse arrangement and taken down a notch or two in tempo. But I’m splitting hairs here.
A somewhat mysterious release – only Chasing The Dragon’s sixth direct cut recording (the others being largely classical) – the CD jewel case spine simply shows ‘Forgotten Dreams / Chasing The Dragon) which, combined with a virtual silence on Eleanor’s website and social media streams, suggests Forgotten Dreams is more of an exercise – from both sides of the desk – to achieve an audiophile ‘personal best’, as opposed to – for now, at least – an ‘official’ addition to Eleanor’s discography.
From a songwriting perspective, Forgotten Dreams perhaps reflects the fact that her days of edginess and angst are long passed, and an ‘ordinary’ studio rendition of the set would probably only garner 3 stars. But for the quality of the recording, and the ‘bottle’ to do it without a ‘safety net’ Forgotten Dreams merits 4. One for fans and audiophile buffs, in particular. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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