Marianne Faithfull is 64 years old but I’m pretty sure that equates to, oh, at least 128 years in most people’s lives. Let’s just say she’s been through a lot, and a lot of it self-inflicted. Her scarred and persuasive voice tells a good part of the story, independent of what it’s actually saying.
For her new album she took her voice, and the rest of her, down to New Orleans, at the suggestion of producer Hal Willner, a frequent collaborator. The result is something at once familiar—no matter what she does, she sounds like herself and no one else—and a little bit anomalous. The goal was not to make a New Orleans record per se, but the local musicians and the authentic Bywater recording studio have surely added a vibe that Faithfull has not accessed previously. Check out here how “Why Did We Have To Part” manages its effortless shift in tone: what begins like a stately bit of British folk-rock soon enough settles into a song with a subtly slinky groove, thanks to bassist George Parker Jr. (listen to how he finds his own spaces to play in) and drummer Carlo Nuccio, not to mention the deft organ flourishes of none other than Bob Andrews, once a member of Graham Parker’s band the Rumour, but a NOLA resident since 1992.
And clearly the indomitable Ms. Faithfull has the voice for all of it. I’ll admit that I can’t quite shake the image of her as the Empress Maria Teresa in the film Marie Antoinette, but it’s true, there’s something in Faithfull’s accumulated history of decadence and despair that has, over time, lent her an aristocratic air. Listen to how she enunciates “What would I do without your love?” (1:38)—this is a woman who may have experienced immeasurable loss in life but she holds resolutely onto her dignity. Note that while this new album is, as is usual for her, primarily a covers album, “Why Did We Have To Part” is one of the four songs (out of 13) that Faithfull co-wrote.
The album, entitled Horses and High Heels, was released earlier this year in Europe, and is slated for a U.S. release on Naïve Records in late June.