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PAUL WELLER’s “An Orchestrated Songbook (With Jules Buckley & The BBC Symphony Orchestra)” Reviewed

If you would have told the “younger me” that my hero/musical influence, Paul Weller, would one day do orchestral arrangements of songs – especially ones from The Jam – I may have laughed cynically or, at least, doubtfully.

However, there are a few pointers that say “yes, this may be a possibility”. During his Style Council-era, songs like “A Stone’s Throw Away”, “Francoise” and a portion of the Confessions Of A Pop Group album were strong indicators that he would and could do this to a successful degree.

Which he has, in fact, done. I probably would not have embraced this record in an earlier time; I wasn’t intellectually, emotionally or spiritually capable of accepting and understanding the power and beauty of orchestras (never mind that it’s Paul Weller). But it all makes sense now, and the absolute gorgeousness of this album can’t be understated.

It also is fitting that in a career – post Jam and Style Council – where Mr. Weller has continued to shift directions and push his own musical styles into an all-embracing adventure with each new release, an album of orchestral arrangements from moments of his extensive catalog is the logical next step.

In no particular order, “It’s A Very Deep Sea”, which is a personal favorite from the aforementioned Confessions… album is, for me, THE highlight. A powerful, achingly beautiful song in either permutation, this version is breathtaking. His voice is on point; the backing singers lift the arrangement to a new height and the musical performance is stellar. “English Rose”, from The Jam’s 1978 All Mod Cons, is revisited as a moment of pastoral beauty – and that may be one of the recurring themes of this album – the cinematic majesty of how these songs unfold.

Two more Style Council “classic” moments round off the highlights – “My Ever Changing Moods” (which had two previously recorded versions – the “hit” single and the stripped-down piano rendition from Café Bleu). There is a lightness and joy in this performance and the details of how I know/remember the song are there, albeit minus the drums, etc. Truly uplifting. And a personal favorite, “You’re The Best Thing” (original also from Café Bleu)is here with Paul being joined by Boy George (one of the great soul-oriented singers of the glorious early/mid-‘80’s) – even after all these years, the combination of the two voices is an amazing thing. While George’s voice is rougher and deeper than in his heyday, it’s heart-rending – both men put pure emotion into this reading and it will make you FEEL. Finally, a favorite of mine from the final year of The Jam (1982’s The Gift), “Carnation” is here and, again, as with the band’s initial offering, this arrangement just heightens the drama, darkness and power of the lyrics. One of Paul’s bleakest couplings back then, it’s now more thought-provoking and points a way towards self-reevaluation.

Every song on here; every nuance is a wonder. That Paul Weller chose to do this, especially in a two-year period of a pandemic where he miraculously released two new studio albums, is a miracle. And even if there was no pandemic, this is a perfect edition to add to his extensive library.

Seek this out; it’s truly not to be missed or overlooked.

A+ – ESSENTIAL LISTENING

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