Chrissie Hynde: Valve Bone Woe

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Chrissie Hynde
Valve Bone Woe
(BMG)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s tempting to dismiss this extreme left turn in Pretenders founder Chrissie Hynde’s illustrious resume as another rock star going the schmaltzy Americana songbook route to attract a different audience. But that’s both unfair and erroneous.

Hynde’s second solo album was inspired by working with Frank Sinatra on 1994’s Duets ll and her more recent recording of the standard “I Wish You Love” for the Eye of the Beholder film soundtrack. She reprises that here as the closing “Que Reste-T-il De Nos Amours?,”  this time singing the lyrics in French. The remaining 13 tracks find her delving into lush but often edgy string saturated arrangements of compositions by everyone from ex-boyfriend Ray Davies (a tropicalia take on “No Return,” a deep cut from the Kinks’ 1967 Something Else), and Nick Drake (an achingly lovely and beautifully realized “River Man”) to music from Hoagy Carmichael, Dimitri Tiomkin’s archetypal “Wild is the Wind” and even a rare Frank Sinatra co-write (“I’m a Fool to Want You”).

On initial listening this sounds like Hyde with strings … lots and lots of strings. But repeated playings uncover offbeat, even experimental arrangements by her backing collective The Valve Bone Woe Ensemble and producers Marius De Vries and Eldad Guetta who should get equal credit for the overall idiosyncratic approach. The opening “How Glad I Am” kicks the proceedings off with smooth, swanky horns urging Hynde’s vocals into sounding as bluesy as she has ever been.

Her take on Brian Wilson’s “Caroline No” adds synths and a somewhat bizarre but fascinating dub slant to his Pet Sounds classic, both honoring and affectionately deconstructing it. Hynde pushes her husky, velvety, immediately recognizable voice, getting underneath the lyrics and riding the swells of a sumptuous, occasionally over-the-top accompaniment.

Two tunes, John Coltrane’s “Naima” and Charles Mingus’ “Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters,” have no lyrics. That leaves the listener basking in the orchestration and, in the case of the Mingus cut, bubbly Afro-Cuban percussion as Hynde hums along to the melody. At over an hour, the set could use more of that variation because the sheer opulence and luxuriance of it can get repetitious if you don’t listen closely — headphones help — to hear and appreciate the underlying quirks.

This is no Rod Stewart-styled mushy romp. It’s a serious, wildly and sometimes radically adventurous reimagining of often obscure entries from the great American songbook and like little you’ve heard or would expect. The press kit even comes with an unqualified recommendation from Brian Eno who calls it “an amazing piece of work.” High praise indeed and a concise, accurate appreciation of one of the most unusual twists Chrissie Hynde has taken in her extensive and impressive career.       

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