There have been some great duet acts in the past: Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, Sonny and Cher, Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston. Well, please add a new combo to the list – in Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, Flo Morrissey and Matthew E White have created an album that sounds contemporary, original and cohesive, encased in a lovely warm bubble wrap of vintage sounds.
It’s a diverse collection of songs spanning several decades and styles, from the Bee Gees to Feist, Leonard Cohen to Frank Ocean. Morrissey and White have managed to make the covers sound both instantly recognisable yet creatively reimagined. There’s only really Roy Ayers’ ‘Everyone Loves The Sunshine’ that sticks too close to the original. However, it is done with so much love and attention to detail that there’s a very strong argument for keeping it on the record – the bottom line is that it sounds ruddy great.
Matthew E White’s influence is very apparent – fans of his work and the Spacebomb Records output will be familiar with the impeccable retro production and soulful musicianship which makes the good songs great and the great songs very special indeed. This is evident on album opener, Feist’s ‘Look At What The Light Did Now’ which could easily be mistaken for a Jackson Five classic, especially with Morrissey’s high pitched vocal passing nicely for a young Michael.
This feels like a record for all seasons – I can imagine that everyone will have a different favourite, or even that people’s favourites will shift depending on mood. I am certainly hard pressed to choose one, yet bizarrely can name one that doesn’t work for me – Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’, reimagined as a far more energetic, brasher number, much more in the vain of ‘Waiting For The Man’. Actually, come to think of it, this is pretty damned good too!
I’m sure that Frank Ocean and James Blake will be quietly chuffed with the treatment their songs receive. ‘Thinking Bout You’ is a guitar orchard of fruity licks and White and Morrissey’s vocal turns are some of the strongest on the album – it’s an exciting moment. ‘The Colour In Anything’ is another star vocal turn by Morrissey, noticeably bringing the song’s sad lyric to sharp focus and some Brothers-In-Arms-era Mark Knopfler guitar adds hugely to a sense of mourning and regret.
Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ provides a moment in the spotlight for White as his whispery baritone sits menacingly over stark instrumentation. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’ is another one to receive darker production; eeriness permeates the song as it both manages to sound cutting edge and 1960s – a trick that White and Morrissey manage to pull off consistently throughout.
Some collaborations work to a degree; there will be some real highs when things fall into place, but there are invariably low points when artists clash for whatever reason. There’s not even a hint of that on Gentlewoman, Ruby Man – it’s packed with joy, imagination and talent, delivered by two artists in tune with each other. ‘Grease’ is a perfect example of this as White and Morrissey’s vocals at points take turns and at others combine to create magical layers that the Bee Gees would have killed for.
This really is a fine record to kick off the New Year.