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.