Corrina Steel – Borrowed Songs
Scratched onto the back of the envelope containing my review copy of Corrina Steel’s new album Borrowed Tunes in the publicist’s handwriting was the phrase “This is the coolest country album you will hear for a while.”
Maybe a little apprehensive that I was not a country fan per se, maybe just moved to add her opinion (she is that cooler sort of PR that actually has passion for music beyond press-friendly platitudes and bums-on-seats), the phrase was so prescient that I almost used it – short and sweet – as my full review for Borrowed Tunes.
But being a lover of words – and quite taken with this beautiful record – I have a few more to say about it.
Firstly, despite being named by her parents after the Merle Haggard song, Corrina Steel is not a country artist, nor is this a country album. Or if she is and it is, it is Country after Punk, after Classic FM rock, after The Fall.
Hell, it even has an Iggy Pop tune on it ( a duskily plaintive ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’) and was conceived into being by jamming Rod Stewart‘s pretty dire 1977 hit ‘Hot Legs’ at a party (a song that didn’t make the final cut of Borrowed Tunes – even though I would have loved to hear what Steel and simpatico guitarist/accompanist Mike Anderson would have done with it).
As you may have guessed Borrowed Tunes is an album of Steel and Anderson’s take on a range of covers. A wide range, lasso’ing in punk, pop, Primal Scream (‘Damaged’) and – yes – Country. Steel says of the project “Our only rule was that there are no rules. Nothing was too corny, nothing was too cool… ”
The inclusion of show-biz kid Peter Allen‘s sappy ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ – usually performed by a weepy, spangled Allen in front of a phalanx of Vegas showlgirls – proves how wide the lasso was cast. And yet, the spare and lovely arrangement brings out the true sweetness of what is – on this new listening – a touching and true song of affection and love.
This is true of every borrowed tune on Borrowed Tunes – the perfectly weighted accompaniments (often only Anderson’s acoustic and Steel’s voice, with maybe a sprinkle of mandolin, violin or Rhodes) really let the song do the talking. And this is where the ‘Country’ approach – possibly the most song-oriented music we have – works seamlessly and beautifully across every track.
Monkee Mike Nesmith‘s pop-country gem ‘Different Drum’ loses a lot of its hit parade gloss under this new sparse arrangement – wrapping possibly one of Pop’s most wry lines “We’ll both live a lot longer, if you live without me” in a folky groove. Jim Webb‘s aching “Wichita Lineman” – possibly the single loveliest song I have ever heard – is given possibly the single loveliest interpretation I can imagine.
A note here on Corrina Steel’s voice. There is a moment in one of the long, yearning notes in ‘…Lineman’s chorus where she breaks the long, beautifully held and controlled note with the slightest burr. It is a small thing, technically perfect yet emotionally devastating, and the mark of a truly remarkable vocalist. Yes, Country is the music of songs, but it is also the music of singers – George Jones et al – great singers.
Steel has been too often compared with Lucinda Williams but I can’t agree – Williams, though a singer of great depth, doesn’t ever really seem to utterly bare her soul, as Steel does with that little ‘…Lineman’ burr. The Sydney Morning Herald said that Steel’s voice has “the kind of force that knocks down flimsy buildings and men…”. The Age agreed, hearing it as “dripping with sass, attitude and raw emotion”. I don’t – I usually run a mile from the blowsy, maneater, blues-mama types – and Corrina Steel’s depth and heart draws me in from note one. It is the restraint and tiny emotional increments that are irresistible.
And it doesn’t hurt of course that she – and Mike Anderson and Borrowed Tunes – is so damn cool! Or, as someone smarter and waaaaay less wordy than me, said: “This is the coolest country album you will hear for a while.”
Borrowed Tunes will be released 17 October 2013 on Snakedrive/MGM