Back in the day there was a website called "The Dexys Midnight Runners Group" which was one of the M.S.N. web-groups. This website is effectively an off-shoot of that site - in much the same way as The Bureau or The Blue Ox Babes were off-shots of a previous group, I suppose. Many people used to post their thoughts, opinions and feelings via the message boards of that site. Many of those posts were rather raw and unrestrained. And all the better for that fact. It's quite a while since I've sat in front of a computer screen and attempted to channel my Dexys-related comments and conclusions into a communication for others to read.


The reason for this rediscovered desire to discuss Dexys is, of course, the release of the new album "Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul." It took me a little by surprise when I first heard news of it and this was followed by a mixture of emotions and conflicting considerations. There was the initial excitement of new material to listen to - balanced with the fear that, if I didn't enjoy it, my desire to continue running a Dexys-related web-site might be stretched to breaking point. There was the disappointment of realising that this was another album of cover versions - tempered by the knowledge that Kevin Rowland has a good "track record" of interpreting the music of other artists. There was the intriguing concept of Dexys releasing an Irish-themed collection, as they had planned to after recording "Don't Stand Me Down" - corrupted by the decision to include non-Irish material on this new release.


When the track-listing for "My Beauty" was first publicised during the summer of 1999, I suspect I was not the only fan of Rowland's previous work to assemble the original versions of the songs selected onto a CD-R so that I could get a sense of the material which would feature on the new album. Seventeen-and-a-half years later I found myself inspired to embark on a similar journey having discovered the details of the latest Dexys release. Consequently I spent a few weeks absorbing as many different versions of the featured songs as I could track down and creating play-lists on my phone of the various versions I had found. I knew that it would be perfectly possible to record an album I really liked using the material chosen for this release. I also knew it would be quite easy to release an album I absolutely hated. And then I heard the first track. 


"Women Of Ireland". The Dexys recording of this song was the first of the new album tracks I heard and I have to say it gave me hope for the finished sound of the album. I was already aware of this piece of music as a result of Helen O'Hara's recording of it on her 1998 solo album "A Night In Ireland". Kevin Rowland has explained that this track along with "Curragh Of Kildare" and "Carrikfergus" were all due to feature on an aborted mid-80's Dexys Midnight Runners project entitled "Irish". It seems beyond coincidence that all three pieces were chosen by Helen for inclusion on her own collection of Irish-themed compositions and it is appropriate on so many levels that she has made a return to the group to perform on this new recording. Of the previous versions I'd listened to, The Chieftains take was definitely my favourite, but I'm pleased to say that the Dexys version surpasses that with its mixture of melancholy, beauty, grace and dignity. This would not sound at all out of place on "Don't Stand Me Down" - and that's not a comment I ever make casually. 


"To Love Somebody". It's difficult to detach any artist from their biggest-selling songs [take Dexys and "Come On Eileen" for example!] and, for many people, The Bee Gees will always be associated with the "Saturday Night Fever" of their late-Seventies Disco era. I've never been that keen on the songs from that period (although "Too Much Heaven" is something of a guilty pleasure!) and I accept that I'm in the minority by preferring the Gibb brothers' output from the earlier part of their career. If they'd only ever recorded "To Love Somebody", "How Do You Mend A Broken Heart" and "I've Just Got To Get A Message To You", they would probably be one of my favourite artists from that era. Curiously, in the case of the first two songs I mentioned, I've always particularly loved their cover versions - by Nina Simone and Al Green respectively - and that probably underlines the fact that I prefer the Bee-Gees' talents as writers rather than recording artists. I was fairly I confident I'd love a Dexys recording of this. And that just proves how difficult it is to predict my reactions to Rowland's work.


It's clear from many of the moments on this album that Kevin Rowland's voice is in really good shape. And yet there are other moments - like the first verses of this song - where he seems to go out of his way to avoid making the most of that voice. His decision to half-sing/half-talk through those verses - ending each phrase so abruptly it sounds like his microphone keeps cutting out - really jarred for me on the first few listens and detracted from what could and should have been another great recording. The beauty of the melody and the finer qualities of his voice are lost on those lines and it's only on the choruses that I feel this recording really starts to shine through.


"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". In contrast, Rowland's singing on this track is really pure. There is a shimmering quality to the vibrato in his voice which helps his vocals glide across the instrumental track with effortless ease. Unfortunately though, I find that instrumentation to be the least inventive on the album, feeling like a fairly faithful adaptation of The Platters' 1958 arrangement. Kevin has been keen to stress that these are personal interpretations of the original songs rather than "covers" but if you listen to Bryan Ferry's recording of the same song from 1974 there is a far greater sense of it being "reinvented" than on this version. Similarly if you compare this to Rowland's previous re-working of a Jerome Kern composition, "The Way You Look Tonight" the performances of the musicians on that recording create a far more individual and interesting sound than this.  I just can't help feeling that the quality of the vocals on this track deserves a more dynamic setting than it gets.


"Curragh Of Kildare". The second new recording I heard, courtesy of its inclusion on Uncut magazine's free CD a few weeks before the album's release. I'd found a 1967 recording of the song recorded by The Johnstons - an Irish folk quartet with a close harmony sound reminiscent of the Seekers - that was far more to my liking than the versions I'd heard by The Fureys or Christie Moore - or even Helen O'Hara's instrumental reading. The likelihood of me loving a Dexys version of this song still seemed fairly low however and my initial reaction after the first couple of listens was a little mixed. But that's when something strange started happening with regards to my appreciation of this new Dexys album. I found myself wanting to listen to the track repeatedly over the next few days. This was what had been missing from my 'relationship' with the previous album "One Day I'm Going To Soar". On the [relatively infrequent] occasions that I have listened to that album I've always appreciated aspects of it - but I've rarely found the desire or appetite within me to start listening in the first place. There was something about this recording that kept enticing me back for another listen and before long I was really starting to enjoy it. I like the way it builds - from the spoken intro to the softly-sung early verses through the glorious gospel glissando of Mary Pearce's vocal interlude to the climactic closing chorus - all leading up to that soaring final note. Who saw THAT coming?


I feel I should mention at this point in proceedings that there has been a ten month gap since I wrote the previous sentence. Given that I was writing about a Dexys release, this delay seems strangely appropriate somehow. At the time I stopped writing I knew exactly what I was planning to say about the next song and all of the others on this album but I'd spent all morning indoors and felt like going out for a while before I completed this review.


The intervening period saw me focus my efforts and attentions on a job I had recently started - only to see that job disappear as several previous jobs have done over the years. It feels as though this should be the point at which I say that this album has helped me through the dark days - that the songs "spoke to me" when I needed to find strength within me. Sadly, that's not what happened - or why I've finally made it back to finish this article.


Yes, I've listened to a lot of music throughout my recent experiences and some of it has "struck a chord" with me.  I've listened to Soul, Rock, Punk, Folk, Funk, Ska, Girl Group Pop, Gospel, Blues... and Gospel-Blues - but hardly any of that music was recorded by any of the artists featured on this site. It is however worth noting that I think the diverse nature of the musical tastes I've ended up with can, at least in part, be attributed to my appreciation of the eclectic styles adopted by Kevin Rowland & Dexys Midnight Runners over the years.


It would be fair to say that I enjoy a lot of the same styles of music as Kevin Rowland does. In some of those cases Rowland's musical choices awoke an interest in genres I didn't even know was asleep inside me. Prior to the release of "The Wanderer" I thought that Doo-Wop meant Darts - or, worse still, Showaddywaddy - and, as such, it held no interest for me. A quick look at the music on my phone's various playlists has just revealed that they include over 900 songs which would fall into the "vocal group" category - and I know that much of that collection stems indirectly from my love of the falsetto backing vocals on "Age Can't Wither You". It would be equally accurate to observe that I have no interest whatsoever in several of the styles embraced by Rowland over the years - a fact which makes reviewing an album of cover versions something of a roller-coaster! To continue where I left off...


"I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen". As a teenager, life often seemed like a series of "battles" with my parents which I had to win in order to progress to the next phase of my development. Getting them to accept that I would no longer answer to the childish name of "Johnny" now that I had started to reach adolescence was one of the first. Making them understand that I'd taken the decision to become a vegetarian was one of those which followed some years later. In between (and throughout my teenage years) my attempts to get my parents - and my mother in particular - to understand and appreciate my daily devotion to Dexys Midnight Runners was a "battle" which never went away. I remember the first time we heard "Come On Eileen" on the radio my mum described it as a "cacophony" - but a few weeks later she informed me that she'd danced and sung along to it at a party she had attended that evening. By the time "Don't Stand Me Down" came out she'd started to come around to my way of thinking and even commented that the introduction to "Knowledge Of Beauty" was one of the most beautiful pieces of music she'd heard. When I first listened to this song I was sad that my mum, born Kathleen Flynn, never got to hear it, having passed away many years previously. This would have been "her song" and the final victory in my "teenage battle". 


The recording itself is one of the high-points on this album for me. A descending arpeggio piano introduction leading into some of Kevin Rowland's finest vocals. I'd always loved the live rendition Dexys gave of "Can't Help Falling In Love" back in 1985 and this is reminiscent of that in many ways. The warmth and tenderness of the vibrato in Rowland's voice on this track reminds me a lot of Elvis Presley who, ironically, recorded his own cover of this song in 1973.


"You Wear It Well". Shortly after the track-listing for this album was announced, I received an email from somebody at the Rod Stewart website "Smiler" asking for any insights into Kevin's decision to record this song. I replied that I thought the idea of Dexys covering "You Wear It Well" was both one of the most interesting yet least surprising of the song choices for this album since it has often been observed that the "sound" on Dexys' 1985 album "Don't Stand Me Down" was heavily influenced by early-Seventies Rod Stewart.  I also sent him a short mix I'd put together of  "You Wear It Well" and "Maggie May" alongside the Dexys song "This Is What She's Like" [see below] which he did agree rather proves the point! 




Ironically - or perhaps inevitably, given that we're dealing with Dexys here - the version of "You Wear It Well" recorded for this album sounds a lot less like Rod Stewart than parts of "Don't Stand Me Down" did! Featuring a more "rocking" guitar sound than has hitherto appeared on any of Kevin Rowland's Dexys recordings, ("You'll Be The One For Me" being the closest comparison) the attempt at inserting a "noisy and crude" guitar solo into this song seems somehow at odds with its smoothly polished production. On paper it looked as though this song could be a perfect match for the Dexys treatment and, though the results are quite listenable, I can't help feeling it doesn't reach the heights I'd anticipated before hearing it. It also suddenly occurs to me as I re-read my comment above that "early Seventies Rod Stewart" has now become an ambiguous phrase - applying equally to the "Maggie May" era as it might to his current activities!


"40 Shades Of Green". There are some artists you're not "allowed" not to love - an appreciation of them is seen as a pre-requisite of calling yourself a true music fan. Johnny Cash falls into this category. Even though some of my earliest musical memories include hearing "A Boy Named Sue"  on his L.P. "Live At San Quentin", I've never developed that love of Johnny Cash which others seemed to have absorbed by some sort of musical osmosis. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the man [in black] - and there are plenty of artists far more deserving of my apathy - but it doesn't help that "Country" is one of those musical genres often championed by Kevin Rowland which I've never been able to connect with. As I listened to earlier versions of the various songs scheduled for release on "Let The Record Show..." this was one of the track selections which worried me the most. As it turned out, I found the released recording far more enjoyable than I'd expected, with more than a few shades (though not quite forty) of the old Dexys song, "Because Of You", including the welcome appearance of Jim Paterson's trombone in the background.


"How Do I Live". Did I just mention that Country is one of my least favourite musical genres? Did I also mention that there are plenty of artists "far more deserving of my apathy" than Johnny Cash? I thought so! It therefore goes without saying that the inclusion of a "Country classic" - previously recorded by LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood - amongst the tracks due for release on a new Dexys album really made me wince. "How Do I Live" is such a clichéd, whiney power ballad at the best of times (and one which I've heard murdered at so many karaoke nights) that I really did fear the worst.  But here's the strange thing - it's one of the few tracks where Kevin Rowland lets the instruments do most of the talking, and his decision to "under-play" his vocals rather than belt out the song, saves this from being the car-crash I'd imagined. In actual fact this has definitely turned out to be one of my favourite recordings on this album - and you've got to love the "How? How? HOW?" interchange between Rowland and Sean Read... a classic Dexys moment!


And so to the song which was always going to be the focal point of this review - whenever I'd finished writing it. The song which somehow represents everything this album is, everything it isn't, everything it might have been and everything it could never have been... and, ultimately, why none of that probably matters.


"Grazing In The Grass". I must confess, I was unaware of this song before I saw it listed amongst the tracks  destined to appear on "Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul". I assumed it must be an old "Irish Lullaby" waxing lyrical about the green pastures of the Emerald Isle - a  song Foster & Allen must surely have performed at some point. When I first heard the version by The Friends Of Distinction from 1969 I was blown away at discovering a song from a genre and era I absolutely love which was completely new to my ears. I was also slightly dubious as to whether this current Dexys line up could do such a song justice. Since Dexys dropped the "Midnight Runners" from their name I have often questioned if this was just a shortening of a name, or an indication that the band had given up on the pace and energy of its earlier years. It struck me that this wasn't a song which would work at "walking pace".


When I finally got my hands on this album I was lucky enough to buy the deluxe edition, complete with DVD and bonus CD featuring "Solo Vocal and instrumental versions". I'm so glad I did as the instrumental version of this track became my favourite Dexys recording I'd heard in over thirty years. A couple of evenings after I'd heard it for the first time I played it on a loop ten times in a row and with each listen it felt even better. I loved the "sound" of this recording as much as I'd loved anything in ages. The drumming was really powerful and suitably funky; the trumpet sounded like it was straight from a Bar-Kays record; Jim Paterson's trombone was finally to the fore once more; the unison punch of the strings on the play-out sounded fresher than anything on "Too-Rye-Ay".


And why am I dwelling so much on the instrumental version? It's certainly nothing to do with the quality of the backing vocals which are really great on this song. I just... don't get it. Why would somebody who is such a perfectionist when making music, who demands that every note is there for a reason, oversee the creation of such a brilliant backing track... only to piss all over it with lead vocals which have virtually no passion or purpose to them. The really frustrating thing is that, as I've already mentioned, Kevin's voice is in great shape elsewhere on this album. There was also an excellent version of "You To Me Are Everything" recorded for the Chris Evans' radio show around the time of this album's release in 2016 and Kevin's vocals on that live recording put this performance to shame. This was definitely not a song suited to the 'not-quite-singing', 'not-quite-talking' style Kevin has come to favour and I can't help feeling that we were robbed of a true Dexys classic in the process.


And so my favourite song on the new Dexys album is one which I rarely listen to in its complete form, a song which has nothing to do with Irish or Country music - but plenty to do with Soul (unlike any of the other songs on the album). It sticks out like a sore thumb yet somehow makes the rest of the album seem out of place. If Dexys can still make a recording which sounds like this - why don't they do it more often?


"The Town I Loved So Well". It is clear from listening to the lyrics of this track that its creator, Phil Coulter is a song-writer of considerable depth and political insight. I therefore find it strangely amusing that this is the same Phil Coulter who gave us such dubious classics as "Congratulations", "Puppet On A String" and The Bay City Rollers' "Shang-A-Lang". This is a song which is clearly more about its words than its music and Dexys version is sensitively performed without being spectacular in an way. Although Coulter became a singer in his own right and performed this song himself, the original - and, in my view, best - version of this song was recorded several years earlier by The Dubliners. Strangely enough, the song which follows this on the album was also written by a famous recording artist whose own version was released some time after the song had been a hit for another singer.


"Both Sides Now". This was another of the Dexys songs I'd heard before the album's release. By the time I did, I was already well-acquainted with Judy Collins' single version and had discovered another cover by Irish group The Johnstons, combining some great vocal harmonies with a guitar riff reminiscent of The Beach Boys "Then I Kissed Her", which was, again, very much to my liking. Whilst I found it ironic that this was the second song I'd heard which had already been covered by the same fairly obscure group - and I was aware that both The Chieftains and Bryan Ferry had also recorded more than one of this album's selections - I must confess that I was conscious to avoid discovering how many of the songs featured had previously been given the Daniel O'Donnell treatment. I fear that information would have an adverse affect on my opinion of the album from which I'd never recover!


It took me a little while to work out what Dexys' version reminded me of - and then I suddenly realised. It wasn't just that the backing track hinted at an old familiar bass line - it was the little snatches of guitar interspersed between the piano chords. It's quite common for artists to borrow from the work of other artists when creating something of their own but I'd suggest it's more rare to find an artist borrowing from their own repertoire while performing somebody else's material! If you haven't worked out what I'm talking about yet, have a listen the short mix below:




"Carrickfergus". A fairly obvious closing number - and one of the songs which would apparently have featured on the planned mid-Eighties album "Irish" which was the original starting point for this collection of covers. It's easy to imagine a Celtic-themed album having been released at that point in the Dexys story. Songs like "Knowledge Of Beauty" and "The Waltz" had definitely paved the way - as had Dexys' recording of "Kathleen Mavourneen" which may or may not have been one of the songs planned for inclusion on that album. I think there is little doubt that, had "Irish" been released as the follow-up to "Don't Stand Me Down", it would have been a very different album to this. Given that this album reached the top-ten of the charts it is doubtful that it would have been more of a commercial success back then but we certainly wouldn't have had the non-Irish material to contend with and, as such, it would have made for a purer concept. However, I can definitely imagine this song having been released as part of that planned mid-Eighties Dexys album sounding exactly like this.


Helen O'Hara, who helped produce the album, has said that she's never heard Kevin's voice sounding as good as it does on this song. I'm not sure I'd go that far but it is certainly a strong vocal performance. My biggest issue with this recording is that it's crying out for an instrumental break or two to separate the repetition of the verses. Kevin told an interviewer that he decided to speak the introduction to "Curragh Of Kildare" after his singing coach mentioned that it was "melodically repetitive". That is definitely a statement applicable to this song also. Which begs the question: why choose to cover a song which is melodically repetitive in the first place? Or, having chosen to, why not play around with those melodies to create more variation? Kevin has been a master at that in the past and with a little more variety, vocally and instrumentally, I feel that this could have been another classic recording.   


So, those are my personal thoughts of the individual songs, but what of the album over all?


Having read a few comments from other Dexys fans elsewhere on the internet, it seems that initial reactions to this album were generally not very favourable. There were comments along the lines of "I've been a Dexys fan for many years but I definitely won't be buying THIS!", prompting the observation from one correspondent that Dexys fans have been complaining that "Dexys used to be good but now they've lost it" ever since Kevin Rowland put on a pair of dungarees! In fact I remember early reviews of "The Projected Passion Revue" shows slating the new line-up of Dexys as unworthy successors to the original band - and there were even those who felt the decision to release a single like "Geno" after the brilliance of "Dance Stance" was proof that Dexys had "lost it"!


What I'm trying to say is, no, this is not anywhere near as good an album as "Searching For The Young Soul Rebels" or "Don't Stand Me Down" - and nor did I ever expect it to be. This is not cutting edge or an attempt to push back the boundaries - but then, at their best Dexys were perhaps just a band which managed to rediscover old sounds at moments in time when they seemed strangely new again - and in contrast to what was around. Soul was reinvented amidst a back-drop of punk guitars; acoustic folk sounds were re-imagined at a time of synths and drum machines... and an album of depth and substance landed in an era of wilfully disposable pop singles. Somehow that seemed to work for many people. This release does not put Dexys at the forefront of a "new soul vision" - it's just an album of songs previously recorded by other artists - but, is it fair to expect it to be anything more than that? Probably not - and, on balance, I'd far rather have this collection of songs, sounding like this, than no Dexys album at all.



June 2016 to May 2017. 



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