Dolenz Sings Nesmith
Monkees fans know the truth – but many of us are still fighting against the tide as it washes up some drifter convinced the band was only ever a made-for-TV American Beatles. Even if that was an accurate description for a year or two they proved themselves to be far more than that in though each of the members contributed plenty to the sound and look and feel of the group the songs of Michael Nesmith were probably the secret weapon. If there was another it’s the tenacity and dedication of the only trained actor of the group, Micky Dolenz. Great singer, and he just kept teaching himself instruments – so desperate to connect and translate and then crossover to actual musician status. That goal was achieved some time ago and though it’s been nearly a decade since the last Dolenz solo album there have been Monkees tours – now just The Micky and Mike Show – and new studio and live albums from them. All rather great really.
Seeing the Monkees was a bigger treat than I could have guessed, even with some wobbles along the way.
The goal is simple here as the title tells us – Micky is going to sing some of Michael’s songs. He’s sung many of them before, including some of these particular ones – but these are not only all new recordings, they’re brand new arrangements. Often quite spectacular re-works, very nearly re-writes in a couple of cases.
There are unreleased Monkees songs (Carlisle Whistling), songs Nesmith wrote for other artists (Different Drum, as best realised by Linda Ronstadt in her days with the Stone Poneys) and songs that Nesmith originally sang for the band (Tapioca Tundra). So it’s all sides of Nesmith – including a few arrangements that are, if anything, more likely to be mistaken for his First National Band rather than The Monkees.
So, the arrangement-genius, producer and player is Nesmith’s son, Christian. He’s been the musical director of The Monkees and their Micky and Mike Show and he’s literally grown up with these songs in his world. Here he strips psychedelic flavours in favour of straight-ahead pop – or does the clever twist of adding exactly that feel to songs that were only ever just pop songs in their original guise. For example Circle Sky (from Head) now feels like it has been reworked for one of Robert Plant or Tom Jones’ recent outings.
Dolenz is in fine voice. He’s 76. And he can do this still. That should be all you need to know – but he is more than carrying this.
I love the nod to Nilsson Sings Newman with the similar cover design, I love the version of Nine Time Blue which the band performed on TV in the late 60s and then left on the shelf until 1987’s reunion – here it is a delicate piano ballad. And it’s like Dolenz’ finest torch moment – a swansong in waiting. I love the attempt on Different Drum – a song that was iconic as soon as the young Linda Ronstadt soared into its orbit. But hey, it’s there to try and try again and Dolenz comes out of it okay. Maybe better than that. He’s certainly better than I expected on all of this. And I was ready to like this after seeing him sing live a couple of years ago.
Big tick. Great album. Such great, great songs – and the sense of purpose, the living tribute to the monument of Nesmith’s songwriting ability is reason enough to want to like this. The effort Christian has put in and the energy Dolenz provides is reason to walk away from it very happy indeed.