It seems as if each year we find ourselves mourning the passing of a whole raft of musical greats and 2016 was no different. I suppose because these people belong to the first generation of celebrity musician, as opposed to the largely jobbing players who came before them, the first to be accessible across all forms of media rather than just the live show and recorded mediums that preceded that era, they feel like a different breed. Many have said that we may never experience their like again and there is indeed a ring of truth to that. As the music industry moves away from creativity, individuality and exploration and into safer, guaranteed returns and more commercial waters, this fading generation can rightly be seen as a golden age of contemporary music.
It is said that any song of worth can be played on a simple acoustic guitar and as a way of tipping his hat and paying deference to those we lost in 2016, Gregg Stewart has rendered some of their best know songs into that form. So with minimal instrumentation to surround himself, he offers 14 wonderfully emotive versions of iconic songs.
He sets out the stall with a brilliantly re-worked take on Pete Burns alt-disco classic You Spin Me Right Round and from then on you know that it isn’t about faithful reproductions but more about getting to the essence of the song, capturing its heart and then aiming for the soul of the listener.
Merle Haggard’s If I Could Only Fly is a gorgeously hazy take on the troubled troubadour and also from the country canon, Guy Clark’s Out In The Parking Lot drips with gentle beauty. He takes the brooding minimalism of Leonard Cohen’s Leaving The Table and renders it into a wistful acoustic ballad and the album bows out with probably the highest profile artist that left us that year, David Bowie and his genre defining Starman.
And as Gregg tastefully adds a suitably hushed and chilled edge to probably his most iconic moment, in our minds we see Ronno lean in and with Bowie’s arm draped, controversially for the time, around his blonde bombshell wingman, the world changed forever. Some might say that music will never be the same again because the likes of Bowie have left us, I say it will never be the same again because they were with us in the first place, Gregg Stewart also knows that all too well and has chosen 14 ways of pointing that out.
As a tribute album, this is perfect, elegantly getting to the heart of the songs whilst offering slightly different sonic trappings and giving the songs a very justified outing. I’m not normally one for albums of covers but Gregg Stewart gets this spot on. It isn’t a case of trying to improve on the originals more a chance to shine a spotlight on just how great those songs where in the first place and in doing so some of that star dust has fallen unasked for on these musically eloquent new takes.