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Macdonald James - Elevator Music For U

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 8 / 5 / 2002

Macdonald James - Elevator Music For U
Label: Laughing Outlaw
Format: CD


"Classic" second album from Australian singer-songwiter James MacDonald, who draws comparisions with both Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb

This, James Macdonald’s second album, is described as “Raw Lounge, though more Pop than Iggy” by his record label. They’ve got a point. On his first album, ‘Believe In You’, Macdonald was favourably compared to Brian Wilson, Nilsson, Todd Rundgren and the 'Rubber Soul' / 'Revolver' era of The Beatles. It's not a bad bunch to be associated with. On this release the influence of Burt Bacharach, however. is more to the fore. This is classic songwriting steeped in the sixties, but still sounding fresh today. The problem with labelling this music as lounge or even as the elevator music of the title is that it really doesn’t do it justice and might just put off some potential listeners. The title does make a lot more sense once you’ve listened to the album and is really quite appropriate but it does conjure up visions of dreadful middle of the road music. To some ears it might well, be but that is only true if the classic song writing of Jimmy Webb is now considered to be MOR. Some of these tracks could have been released as long lost but recently discovered Webb recordings, and few would have doubted the claim. The fact that the one cover version on the album is a cover of Gilbert O’ Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again’ from 1972 is another reason to be initially doubtful of the record. But, and it has been years I admit since I have heard the original, it’s a surprise to hear how good the song is. Maybe it’s Macdonald’s lush take on it or maybe I just didn’t realise how good the song was until now, but it is an inspired version and a standout track on this album. If you can get past the picture of the song being sung by someone other than the cloth-capped Mr. O’Sullivan (or had he grown out of that image by then?) and set any prejudices aside you realise what an extremely sad and melancholic song it really is. To be fair to James Macdonald though the song would not be the same without the harmonies he has added to it. They really make the song his own. Confessing to liking a Gilbert O’Sullivan song, can it get any worse? Yes, I suppose it could have been a cover of 'Clair'! The track which follows the cover version, ‘Because Of You’, is absolutely stunning and is where the album starts to make sense,and the point where one realises that Macdonald is not merely a copyist but that he has a considerable talent in penning heart stopping melodies and heart breaking lyrics. “ I see the girls walk by under a summer sky, but no one can catch my eye because of you”, sings Macdonald in the voice of an angel over one of his once heard never forgotten melodies, conjuring up that summer feeling. When the horns come in, just before some beautiful guitar playing, it turns a rainy May day into the sunniest July day you’ve seen for years. At times the songs do veer very closely to easy listening but as stated earlier this would be classic sixties easy listening which seems to be more than acceptable today. Apart from the heavenly harmonies, which at times are breathtaking, the Brian Wilson and The Beatles comparisons made for the first album can no longer be applied here. Macdonald has produced something really special and unique for these times. Elvis Costello’s collaboration with Burt Bacharach from 1998, ‘Painted From Memory’, is the best album to compare this to from recent years. But that was missing these harmonies and, although Bacharach is obviously an influence, Macdonald’s melodies really do take this album to places the Costello / Bacharach one didn’t go to. I’m amazed that it seems that no one has yet picked up on the Jimmy Webb comparison. Not his later work but the songs he wrote from 1967 to 1969. Those sounds and structures are stamped all over this album. Yes, it’s that good. If the Webb written and arranged ‘The Magic Garden’ album by The 5th Dimension or the Brooklyn Bridge version of Webb’s ‘Worst That Could Happen’ mean anything to you, then this album will be like manna from heaven to you. The really sad thing is that I’ve a feeling that this album is going to be overlooked by many people this time around. Then in a few years time it’s going to be rediscovered and pages will be written about it in the monthly music magazines, proclaiming it to be a lost classic. Macdonald will be rightly hailed as having created an album chock full of heartbreaking melodies with immaculate vocals and playing. Grab a copy now and be all smug when in years to come when it is given the title that we know it is now; a Classic.

Track Listing:-
1 Won’t Be Long
2 Elevator Music (just one kiss)
3 Blue Jaw
4 Complete
5 Fool In Love
6 Alone Again
7 Because Of You
8 Brimful Of Tears
9 This Song
10 Rather Be With You
11 Open Up
12 So Melancholy

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