Written by William Elgin, posted by blog admin
There’s a generosity in this album that’s difficult to ignore. The fourteen songs comprising Gregg Stewart’s Twenty Sixteen are an unexpected musical bounty in terms of the sheer quantity of first rate music he’s bringing to the listening public. The fact that these are covers doesn’t matter. He’s made his selections from artists who died during 2016 and the choices range from the well known to lesser known deep cuts from an artist’s career. Stewart, a talented singer/songwriter in his own right, sounds wholly comfortable tackling other artist’s material and puts as much of himself into the arrangements and lyrics alike he can muster. It’s unified by a guitar centered sound and an ease with melody unmatched by all but a few of his contemporaries. Despite its status as indie rock, Gregg Stewart projects immense confidence with this collection and the production never sounds anything less than top shelf from the beginning.
The mid eighties smash for Dead or Alive and singer Pete Burns, “You Spin Me Round”, opens Twenty Sixteen on a mildly idiosyncratic note. Anyone expecting Stewart to attempt an approximation of the band and Burns’ style is in for a fortuitous disappointment. It’s fortuitous because Stewart’s cover of the famous song is far more interesting than any straight ahead regurgitation could have ever been. Rather than pursuing a relentless and nearly claustrophobic pop sound, Stewart takes an acoustic slant on this classic and gives it an understated mania that’s quite a contrast with the original. This isn’t the first cover of “Raspberry Beret” that I can recall, Warren Zevon and REM sans Michael Stipe had a minor hit with it in 1990 as the Hindu Love Gods, but Stewart brings his own carefree, joyful verve to the song that no one else can claim. The artists with staying power are those with a recognizable style and that shines through on this album despite him tackling other’s songs.
His cover of a later Merle Haggard song, “If I Could Only Fly”, comes off as a minor masterpiece of exquisite sensitivity and expertly arranged. He mines Jefferson Airplane’s embryonic days, pre Grace Slick, with the track “High Flying Bird” as an acknowledged of rhythm guitarist.songwriter/vocalist Paul Kantner’s death and the passing of original female vocalist for the same Singe Anderson. This performance does a memorable job of capturing the sense of discovery common to classic Airplane and the sheer exuberance of playing. He looks to Texan songsmith Guy Clark for a powerful rendition of his “Out in the Parking Lot”. Stewart’s phrasing is key here as its similarities and differences alike reveal how elastic this classic is and makes something new out of a song many serious music fans are intimately familiar with. He concludes, as one might expect, with a Bowie cover, but the song choice is a bit individualistic. Rather than opting for the obvious, Stewart chooses “Starman”. It isn’t an enviable task attempting to re-interpret a master stylist, but Stewart wisely doesn’t and merely uses Bowie’s original as a template for his own. Twenty Sixteen is far more than some reverential ode to fallen musical idols – it’s an argument successfully concluded that these performers, among some of the most talented in the past century, have amassed legacies worth posterity’s look and that we’ve taken more than a passing glance into the heart of Gregg Stewart’s musical DNA. It’s a rewarding view. .