Album review: STEVE HARLEY – Uncovered

STEVE HARLEY - Uncovered

Absolute [Release date 21.02.20]

While Cockney Rebel never really made the A grade, The Psychomodo – an album that languished amongst my 1970s LP collection – has always been one that I’ve always felt a strange affinity for, even if I’ve never revisited in digital form.

Over the many intervening years Harley has gone on to carve out a niche as a renowned and much loved performer/artist. Even if – like Cockney Rebel – he’s always been, to a degree, under the radar of the mainstream.

Uncovered is a project – not unsurprisingly – of cover versions (his own included) of songs that have resonated with him – supported by his newly inaugurated Acoustic Band featuring Barry Wickens on viola, violin and acoustic guitar, Oli Hayhurst on double bass, Tom Hooper on percussion, and Martin Simpson on guitar.  There’s also cameos from Eddie Reader and Jim Cregan.

Pin Ups aside, it’s hard to think of a covers album that works unequivocally. And Uncovered is no exception, despite some virtuoso performances. But at least Harley doesn’t take the easy route with ‘straight’ covers, instead putting his own individualistic stamp on the material, with his vocals being recorded up close and unaffected, with no EQ.

That side of the recordings works a treat – Uncovered is a lovely sounding album. And it starts on a high with a wonderfully wistful version of his own ‘Compared With You (Your Eyes Don’t Seem To Age)’. And the stripped back, almost lackadaisical, take on Bowie’s ‘Absolute Beginners’ also works well.

Things then begin to go a bit awry. Most will be able to take or leave the Robbie Burns / Trad. ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, but the heavily disguised interpretation of ‘Emma’, Hot Chocolate’s 1974 #3 hit doesn’t really translate, and while Cat Steven’s ‘How Can I Tell You’ is truer to the original, Harley’s vocals pale in the shadow of Stevens’, as anyone familiar with Teaser And The Firecat will attest.

But worse comes in the form of the cringe-worthy, and what some may consider sacrilegious, treatment given to ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ (McCartney/The Beatles) and The Stones’ ‘Out Of Time’. It just goes to show that you should think twice, and then twice again, before dabbling with a ‘classic’.

Uncovered works much better where Harley isn’t covering ‘modern standards’- for example on the excellent Eddie Reader duet ‘Star Of Belle Isle’ (Trad.), and an ‘unplugged’ set of his own ‘greatest hits’ may have been of wider appeal. But realistically, the collection is at aimed at his existing fan base, who are likely to walk away happily clutching a merch store copy from this year’s promotional tour dates. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

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