Chrissie Hynde & The Valve Bone Woe Ensemble
Valve Bone Woe
BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd.
Well this is a lovely surprise. And for many reasons. Five years ago Hynde released her debut solo album and I thought it was a stinker – so this one gets a tick just for not being that. But also this one is the correct approach for Hynde to take with a solo album. Where Stockholm, the previous record, just felt like a pretender-version of a Pretenders album (ha!) here she actually does something different. She was back to the Pretenders name in between these albums (proof that first stab at a solo direction didn’t work).
And so to Valve Bone Woe – a covers set, many of them jazz standards, all of them dressed in jazz-clothing. Lush arrangements, often Chrissie’s voice sounds ageless (Hello, Young Lovers) and she brings a new yearning to songs already oft-covered (Nick Drake’s Riverman) as well as the immaculate taste of great record-collection pop (The Beach Boys’ Caroline, No).
There are weepy evergreens here that Hynde attacks as if the audience might be hearing the song for the first time (I’m A Fool To Want You, I Get Along Without You Very Well). And all of the very best hallmarks of her voice – breathy, expressive, warm, wondrous – are well on display.
But it’s no safety-zone. Exquisite taste means pushing the envelope. So we hear version of Charles Mingus’ Meditation On A Pair of Wire Cutters and John Coltrane’s Naima; superb, both. Yes, they serve to showcase the ensemble as much as anything but they’re also there because they’re songs Hynde loves, from artists she respects. And she’s all about sharing that – and (probably) boasting of her own good taste.
The covers album by an established pop or rock act can feel lazy, trite. But when it’s done with care and skill (Dylan served up three of them, the last a triple, all of them great) it’s as good as writing a bunch of new things.
So Valve Bone Woe stands up with any of the strong moments from the second half of the Pretenders’ catalogue. And, most importantly, it’s also its own thing altogether. Far better than anyone might have expected. Another sign of Hynde’s great love of music, her affinity for it. You hear the heart in her voice.