John Cale – Hallelujah (2016)

John Cale will re-issue the classic live album Fragments of a Rainy Season, featuring his revered interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ amongst many solo versions from his enduring catalogue and previously unreleased outtakes, on December 9th 2016 through Double Six / Domino.

Fragments of a Rainy Season is the the first live John Cale album to feature him performing solo and “unplugged” – before that term became a mid-’90s buzzword.

In contrast to the jaundiced punk truculence of Sabotage/Live (1979) or Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1986), Fragments gives us Cale at his most melodic and moving, a mellowed and certainly a soberer man in a Yamamoto jacket and a lopsided haircut running through a selection of his prettiest songs.

It’s a Cale many of us love deeply, a man alone at a concert-hall Steinway revisiting the pop-rock of ‘Paris 1919’ and ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’, as wistful and whimsical as any ’70s singer-songwriter holding court at L.A.’s Troubadour club. It’s the Cale who disavowed the spiky nihilism and decadence of the Velvets, inspired instead by melodicism of Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson (to whom he’d paid haunting homage on Slow Dazzle’s brilliant Beach Boys pastiche ‘Mr. Wilson’). It’s the Cale who improbably took a staff job at Warner-Reprise in L.A. and – for an all-too-brief moment – became part of the Burbank producers’ mafia alongside Lenny Waronker and his laid-back chums. (Lest we forget, 1973’s Paris 1919 featured members of Little Feat and the Crusaders among the backing musicians.)

Cale being Cale, Fragments isn’t all rueful tenderness. The deceptively jaunty ‘Darling I Need You’ is flippantly introduced as a song about “religious awakening in the southern part of the United States”, while Elvis’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is no less gothic in the solo version here than it is in the Grand Guignol horror show of the original on Slow Dazzle. ‘Guts’ is as close as Cale ever came to Lou Reed at his most withering.

It’s easy to forget that – years before Jeff Buckley and The X-Factor – he was the first artist to recognize the hymnal majesty of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, or that it was his original 1991 reading of the song that popped up on the soundtrack of Shrek.

On Fragments of a Rainy Season – fragments of pain from a long and sometimes mystifying career – the rain comes down in buckets.

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