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coverpic flag Scotland - Full Moon 236 - 11/25/15

Bill Wells & Friends
Nursery Rhymes
Karaoke Kalk

'If people thought it was a bit strange, then they didn't say... I made it all clear pretty early on in proceedings and everyone seemed up for it.' (Bill Wells)

The semi-legendary Scottish composer and musician Bills Wells (he's firstly a bass player, but Wells also plays piano and guitar) has always collaborated with the bigger and more interesting names from the upper layers of (or the surface of) the underground and the lower overground of jazz, folk, indie pop/rock, etc. The album Everything's Getting Older (on Chemikal Underground, 2011), made in collaboration with Aidan Moffat (ex-Arab Strap), won him the Scottish Album Of The Year award in 2012. On Nursery Rhymes, his Scottish and Global friends this time around includes Syd Straw, Yo La Tengo, Karen Mantler (plus The Karen Mantler Trio), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub - yes, there'll come a new TFC platter early next year!), Isobel Campbell (ex-Belle & Sebastian), Satomi Matsuzaki and Greg Saunier (both members of Deerhoof), Amy Allison, Amber Papini (from Hospitality), Aby Vulliamy (of Wells' The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland), Michael Cerveris (at a time a member of Bob Mould's touring band), Charles Burnham, Bridget St John, and Annette Peacock. Bill's 'dream team' experimenting in the nursery room in the evening.

All these songs are traditionals, true 'oldies' as they all originate from the 17th/18th/19th century. Hey, "Ding Dong Bell" even go further back, as it was published back in in 1580! However, they are all re-created and interpreted in a new, modern way - dressed up in 'Bill Wells style' arrangements, stamped with the various singers' and players' mood and temperature. All the songs are of course quite low-voiced and gentle (as nursery rhymes should be). Jazz and folk cool, for sure. Yes, they are also experimental and playful as well, but I guess they'll work very well inside the nursery for the young listeners. But, as Wells has stated the songs are also somewhat 'rubbed' instead of the common polishing most commercial artists do to songs within this genre: 'They should be quite disturbing, because ultimately part of the remit of a nursery rhyme was to give your child some of the harsh realities of life, while sugar-coating them with a catchy little melody. But I'm losing that coating and going straight to the nub of the thing.'

The best tracks of Nursery Rhymes are, well... there are several. Of course I like the tracks featuring Yo La Tengo, such as "Three Blind Mice" (vocals by Karen Mantler) and "Lavender's Blue" (vocals by Georgia Hubley and Norman Blake), plus the very fine closing track "Ride A Cock Horse" (vocals by Hubley and Blake). Some of the more entertaining tracks include "Humpty Dumpty" (vocals by Amber Papini, feat. Yo La Tengo), "Hickory Dickory Dock" (vocals by Blake) and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (vocals by Satomi Matsuzaki). It is also nice to hear the authoritative voice of Annette Peacock when she sings "Hey Diddle". "Bobby Shaftoe" (with vocals by Aby Vulliamy) is also a treat. All in all Nursery Rhymes is a sweet and sympathetic yet also a challenging album. This is not a mainstream record - here are no straight renditions of these (mainly) well-known songs. Go check it out with your child/children.

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