Sunday, October 8, 2017

Greeg Stewart - Twenty Sixteen (2017)

Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin

Gregg Stewart stays busy. The New Jersey based singer/songwriter, creative force behind the band Stewboss, follows up his first solo album released in March of this year with one of the most unique cover album projects you are ever likely to hear. Twenty Sixteen gathers fourteen songs popularized or written by musical artists who died in 2016 and ranges across a relatively wide array of musical styles and approaches. It’s more than a tribute however. One of the most notable strengths we hear on Twenty Sixteen is Stewart’s restless creativity that’s seldom content with merely duplicating the original versions of these songs. Instead, Stewart makes a noticeable effort to retain the spirit inhabiting those tracks while transforming them in unexpected ways that, nonetheless, remain faithful to their guiding spirit. This is no small feat. The path of least resistance says that merely aping the more famous originals and hitting one’s marks would be enough to make this a worthwhile excursion from his own songwriting, but it’s to Stewart’s credit that he doesn’t settle for that.

Dead Or Alive and their front man Pete Burns entered history with the relentlessly sing-able “You Spin Me Round” and, while Stewart can’t whip up the same physicality with his more low key arrangement, he does manage to capture much of the original’s suggestiveness and playful mood. He turns to another Eighties’ icon George Michael with a cover of his song “A Different Corner” and, stripped of Michael’s pop affectations, Stewart gives us a chance to rediscover this track as a fundamentally fine song   His take on Prince’s pop classic “Raspberry Beret” isn’t the first successful re-invention of the song, but it’s likely the most original. Stewart retains the central melody and builds around it, but the performance is shorn of the bells and whistles livening up Prince’s original and successful nonetheless because of Stewart’s emotive vocal and the low-key vibe his acoustic instrumentation takes advantage of. He takes a, perhaps, unexpected turn covering Viola Beach’s “Daisies” and the performance illustrates another of Twenty Sixteen’s strengths – it has the potential to introduce bands/songs to listeners that they might have otherwise missed. His take on the indie pop band’s “Daisies” reveals the nuanced depths of their young, tragically lost talent and Stewart obviously relates to the song and their experience as he digs in with an absolutely super vocal.

Leon Russell’s “One More Love Song” gets a compelling workout and restructuring that shows Stewart’s imaginative brilliance. It seems like a natural to revamp the tune so that it sounds more like a number from The Band and Stewart makes this decision pay handsome dividends. His cover of the early Jefferson Airplane track “High Flying Bird” filters the original’s nascent San Francisco trappings through Stewart’s modern sensibility and it results in a version of this Airplane tune that the band’s recently deceased leader, Paul Kantner, would undoubtedly enjoy. The album takes a slightly more personal turn with his performance of “That’s How You Know”, a song penned by Los Angeles songwriting mainstay Andrew Dorff. The close proximity of Stewart to the departed gives the outing a different sense of immediacy and urgency lacking in other numbers and Stewart definitely approaches it with an cathartic air. Twenty Sixteen says as much about Greeg Stewart as it does the songwriters he’s chosen from and it makes for a substantive offering while we wait a little longer for Stewart’s next burst of songwriting from his own pen.

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