Wednesday, 11 June 2008

TOM RUSH: Sunshine, Sunshine

He's there on the cover, a typical young face of '68; tall, swarthy, secretly smiling, but underneath the jacket and pullover lurks a darkness. Behind him a girl clings to him, but does he even know she's there?

The album was The Circle Game, it was 1968, and Rush was one of many Elektrafied balladeers; the photograph was taken by the young Linda Eastman, and does he really know where he's going? Ten tracks, all lushly arranged by Paul "Touch Me" Harris and produced by one Arthur Gordon. Eight of these songs are interpretations of other, then unknown writers; Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, and also including a curious stab at a pre-rock standard ("Glory Of Love"). Just two of the songs were his, but one of them was "No Regrets" with its anti-ripple guitar motif, an extended exercise in self-annihilating denial - and Scott knew well enough not to make his torch burn too brightly with his cover.

It's all very characteristic '68 hazed comedown but strides above "typical" by Rush's vibrato-free voice with its fatalistic end of line dives and its slight, pleading baritone hoarseness which puts me immediately in mind of Bill Fay; more minute portraits of small movements liable to cause giant earthquakes.

"Sunshine, Sunshine," a James Taylor composition, is the best of entry points; a carousing caress of light strings, a clinging-onto-noble Last Post trumpet, delicately heartbreaking chord changes, Rush singing as though he's in no kind of mood at all, other than perhaps a quizzical one, for "sounds of laughter" or "smiling faces," instead choosing to muse on what happens to sunshine when there are no longer people to help define it ("Is that a cloud across your smile?"). As with the Supremes' "The Happening" there are deep currents of emotional discordancy underneath the placid surface ("Pain and rain and misery/Illness in the family") but not a uniformly dark picture ("and sunshine means a lot to me"). But then sunshine (it could be capitalised; it may be a girl's name) grows darker with the day ("...and bleak all quiet and grey by dawn," "trading her mood of yellow gold for frostbitten shades of") even though the music's tortured beauty doesn't diminish. Eventually - all right, let's give her an S - the singer is "running out of things to be" and "Sunshine means a lot to me"; he beckons her closer, for comfort and release, as the strings close in on a reluctant major key ending.


henry s said...

what an evergreen album this was...Tom Rush's work of this era always puts me in the mind of a sunnier Nick Drake, a soberer John Martyn...("Rockport Sunday" being his "Bryter Later", his "Glistening Glyndebourne")...Lee Hazlewood also covered "No Regrets", so appropriate it's hard to remember that he didn't actually write it...(the song taking on a sad new meaning this last year, of course)...and I was delighted to see Bono slip in a few bars of "No Regrets" during some U2 performance on the tube a while back, possibly when they played during the Super Bowl...(I have this weird feeling I've also heard a Jarvis Cocker version somewhere, but I could just be dreaming that one up)...

david said...

Good to see some critical acclaim for a James Taylor song - he's always felt like a guilty pleasure of mine. This is a fine song but I'd never heard Rush's version until five minutes ago when I got a free 30 second iTunes burst and forked out 79P. Nice. Maybe I should get 'Urge For Going' too. Taylor's Apple album is full of delights and very much of its time.

The original 'No Regrets' is the only song I know from 'The Circle Game', an album I'm put off by its title track (my most hated Joni song, and don't get me started on Neil Young's equally irritating tribute to it, 'Sugar Mountain'). To me, the Walker Bros own it, but I agree they had the good sense not to over dramatise.

Now then, how about an entry on White And Torch's 'Parade', which would be the best Walker Brothers song ever had they only recorded it?