#17. Record Club – Oar
Beck’s superb and on-going Record Club project is my next choice for this countdown. Beck organizes a handful of fellow musicians and friends, and in one day, they cover an entire album. The tracks are recorded as videos, and then released on Beck.com weekly. He tackled Skip Spence’s Oar for the third project, which is an unbelievably good record. It is a sometimes strange mix of folk and jazz, but with the emotion of one man singing the blues. Skip Spence was an obscure genius, a lesser-known Syd Barrett-type who also went mad. His story is fascinating, but better saved for another post. Beck has been a long-time fan of Spence’s, and has covered him a couple of times prior to this as well.
The first couple of Record Clubs were a fairly random bunch of musicians. This time, the third project, Beck surrounded himself with a band, Wilco, who already have their own chemistry. This brought an added dimension to the proceedings, and the ability to go almost anywhere musically. Further, the other musicians (Feist, Jamie Lidell, Brian LeBarton, James Gadson) are all supremely-talented collaborators, who can easily fit in with whatever is going on. With Beck overseeing everything, this Record Club was set up to succeed.
And succeed they do. They all jump into Oar with unbridled enthusiasm and creativity, relishing the brilliant songs. They handle the project in two sections, basically. Eight of the tracks were done with all the musicians, and the remaining were done as a killer funk band of Beck, Lidell, Gadson and LeBarton (i.e., without Wilco). These two set-ups really complement each other, and make for a very well-rounded album.
The tracks with Wilco and Feist for the most part play the songs straight. Beck sings lead on “Little Hands” and “Diana,” sticking quite close to Spence’s original vocals. Wilco fills out the music in subtle and playful ways, like those lead guitar licks on “Diana.” Feist gets to sing the staggering “Weighted Down,” which was a perfect decision. I don’t think Beck or Jeff Tweedy would have been quite right for the song, neither’s voice has the necessary heft for it. Feist, however, brings it. Similarly, the band starts Spence’s slow and spooky “War In Peace” slow and spooky, but then drop a crazy guitar solo by Nels Cline. They never overdo anything, which is a perfect skill to have when doing an album in a day. For example, on “All Come To Meet Her,” they strip the song all the way down, and the entire group sings it acapella.
Meanwhile, the funk band lets loose with more abandon on the remaining songs. While the Wilco tracks are beautiful and tasty, after Wilco left (or before they got there, not sure), the other guys jammed. Jamie Lidell has a high soul falsetto, James Gadson is a legendary funk drummer on all the classics, Beck and Lebarton are groovy dudes. They must have realised, what else are we going to do here? “Books Of Moses” and “Cripple Creek” are the answer.
As you can see, this Record Club was up for anything-acappella barbershop, ’70s funk, acoustic guitars, rock, Ace Of Base (yep), whatever. That they were doing it from a template of Skip Spence’s songs is pretty inspiring. The project both stands on its own, and brings new light into the sometimes shady corners of Spence’s genius. If you’re not following Beck’s Record Clubs, you’re missing out. (It’s on hiatus at the moment though, I’ll certainly post when it returns.)
You can watch/listen to all of the songs on beck.com by clicking here.
Record Club: Record Club – “Grey / Afro”