Wyatt remains at his best when he’s facing forwards rather than looking back.
Sid Smith 2010
Having peppered his solo career with cover versions of material drawn from impressively diverse origins, Robert Wyatt, now in his mid-60s, here turns his attention to some great tunes from the jazz standards songbook as well as revamping a couple from his own back catalogue.
Consequently, there’s a palpable sense of introspective reflection about much of the record. The sad vulnerability of Wyatt’s paper-thin falsetto is accentuated to the max by the unrequited longing and regretful resignation which are bound into the lyrics of old chestnuts like Laura and Lush Life. Ros Stephens’ string arrangements decorously upholster many of the songs, yet they also contain a certain stiffness that doesn’t always complement Wyatt’s porous falsetto.
Wyatt is clearly not only In a Sentimental Mood, but also up for having a laugh, as his lugubrious reading of What a Wonderful World demonstrates. Whilst there’s no denying the frisson gained from hearing the improbable novelty of Wyatt covering Louis Armstrong’s saccharine swan song, it’s really just fluff and filler compared to some of the potency of the new, original material.
The most cohesive of these is The Ghosts Within. Wyatt cedes the lead vocal to Gilad Atzmon’s wife Tali, on an evocative outing replete with atmospheric bandoneón, sizzling percussion, mournful clarinet and a truly chilling soprano sax coda.
When one hears a musical feast as good and as sultry as this it’s impossible not to conclude that, for all their wistfulness, entertaining enough renditions of standards seem half-baked by comparison. Having moved into the position of being a beloved national treasure status, Wyatt remains at his best when he’s facing forwards rather than looking back.