3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Hall without Oates? Is that even a thing?
This compilation of Hall’s Oates-free recordings is an overdue and well-deserved double disc of highlights from the singer/songwriter’s inconsistent solo career. Music from all five of his releases spanning 1977-2011 is included along with a smattering of previously unissued on CD performances from the long-running Live at Daryl’s House show. They serve as an enticement for fans who may already own his studio albums.
Hall’s discs without partner John Oates began on a notable, and experimental, high point. Sacred Songs, recorded in 1977 but not made available until 1980 due to the record company’s hesitation about its avant-garde, noncommercial direction, was a sharp turnabout from the ear-friendly soul/pop he had been tied to. Producer/guitarist Robert Fripp (King Crimson), was an unlikely partner, but he surrounded Hall with edgy, often spooky, and haunting music that not surprisingly leaned in a progressive rock path. It revealed a side to the singer few realized existed. A half dozen of its generous 30 tracks (totaling 2 ½ hours) are from that debut which, although it remains Hall’s most potent and challenging music, doesn’t always integrate logically with the marketable approach of his four subsequent projects.
Six years later, Hall returned with Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine. He shifted from the edgier leanings of its predecessor for a radio-ready style. That is exemplified by its terrific rocking/soul opening track, “Dreamtime,” which also kicks off this collection. Produced by The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, it’s arguably his finest moment. The sing-along “Foolish Pride” is another melodic winner which would easily slot on any Hall & Oates title. But the personnel listing, which credits six people with “drum programming” and three others as “additional percussion,” shows that Hall is heading into slicker territory. Joni Mitchell gets a background vocal nod on the heartfelt ballad “Right as Rain” but she is under-mixed.
A further seven years passed until 1993’s Soul Alone appeared. It moved closer to mainstream blue-eyed soul with Hall going so far as covering Marvin Gaye’s “Stop Loving Me, Stop Loving You” with stiff programmed drums and overwhelming strings, both of which detracted from his emotional vocals.
Can’t Stop Dreaming from 1996 continued in the same vein ie: a pleasant, Sunday morning sipping coffee music with Hall going full Sade. This grabs four of its best moments.
It took 15 years for Hall’s most recent set to appear. The comparatively roots-based Laughing Down Crying was a comeback of sorts that dispensed with much of the lavish production that hampered his previous discs in favor of a stripped-down, organic sound.
That comparatively less polished perspective makes the nine songs recorded live from Daryl’s House so impressive. A melancholy acoustic version of the Eurythmics “Here Comes the Rain Again” with Dave Stewart is a sensitive reimagining and “Can We Still Be Friends” with its writer and longtime H&O friend Todd Rundgren is another highlight. A lovely, unembellished take on “Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye,” originally a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips, recalls Hall’s melancholy ballad past. A live performance of “In Your Own Dream,” an obscure Paul Butterfield ballad, is a surprising but superb inclusion of a song that could use some belated recognition.
Hall, who also chose the selections, is in stellar voice throughout, even if a few too many choices push the schlock meter into the red. Whittling the studio material down to a single disc and adding a second for the live tracks would have created a stronger, more listenable package.
BeforeAfter is flawed but nonetheless remains worthwhile since much of Daryl Hall’s non-Oates efforts haven’t been well-publicized. This recaps and reveals enough of his notable work to rectify those missed opportunities.
Photo Credit: Stuart Berg / ShoreFire Media