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Rhonda Harris - Tell the World We tried

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 9 / 4 / 2007

Rhonda Harris - Tell the World We tried
Label: Auditorium
Format: CD


Fine and sometimes surprising tribute collection of Townes Van Zandt songs from Danish band Rhonda Harris

This time round Dane and Rhonda Harris main-man Nikolaj Nörlund has rounded up a couple of Raveonettes but dropped the excellent Lise Westzynthius for his latest project. It’s a further departure from the previous two Rhonda Harris albums as this is a collection of songs by Townes Van Zandt rather than a set of originals. Along with the Cowboy Junkies, who along with a host of others have also covered the late singer/songwriter's work to great success, it somehow seems fitting that Rhonda Harris has taken this step. The sparseness of the band's earlier work and the soundscapes they create are well suited to Van Zandt’s songs. In fact contained within this album are some of the most beautiful renditions of the sorely missed Texan’s songs. In a perfect world, of course, Van Zandt would have seen the day when his work was appreciated and accepted by a far larger public than who heard his songs when he was with us, but it’s a fitting tribute to the man that bands like Rhonda Harris are keeping his name and music alive. There are some obvious choices like a stunning version of ‘Marie’ which pulls at the heartstrings and where the vocals are particularly strong. It’s songs like this where Rhonda Harris really shine, just simple backing, lyrics that tell a story and vocals where every word can be heard. Bands like Tindersticks, the Triffids and Nick Cave come readily to mind but Nörlund injects enough of his own vision into these songs to make them more than just a run of the mill cover versions. There are some surprising omissions too, rather than the obvious choices which have been covered time and again Nörlund has chosen not to give the Rhonda Harris treatment to better known songs like ‘Pancho And Lefty’ which makes this collection all the more interesting. On ‘Waiting Around To Die’ which featured on Van Zandt’s very first album ( 1968’s ‘For The Sake Of The Song’) and also on the self-titled 1970 album, Nörlund replaces the softly strummed acoustic and blues harmonica with some interesting musical touches. There’s a marching rhythm which takes the song into a completely different place than the sparse original travels. If it wasn’t for the compelling lyrics which, given the life and choices Townes was to take later, make for uneasy listening at times, it could be a different song. It’s to Nörlund’s credit that he can take such a song, turn it on its head yet still lose none of the effect of the lyrics. ‘If I Needed You’ which was featured on Van Zandt’s 1973 prophetically-titled ‘The Late Great Townes Van Zandt’ album (the title inspired by a close call when Townes was recording and apparently overdosed on a cocktail of alcohol and drugs) and his last album for four years, is taken at a funereal pace, slower the original and works extremely well, the lyrics carrying more weight at this slower speed. It is, quite simply breathtaking. As is the rest of this album. Without wishing to take any credit from the obvious talent Nörlund has in writing and producing his own songs it was an inspired choice to make a whole album highlighting this sadly missed Texan. It’s almost like Rhonda Harris were born to make this album, one listen to ‘Tecumseh Valley’ is enough to confirm the right people are doing this job. Nörlund’s vocals have rarely been in better form and the gentle melody is picked out on acoustic guitars that will melt even the most frozen heart. Van Zandt, thankfully left behind a large back catalogue, so there’s plenty more for Rhonda Harris to choose from should they decide to make a volume 2. Let’s just hope they will follow it up, songs as beautiful as ‘Kathleen’ and ‘No Place To Fall’ don’t come along everyday.

Track Listing:-
1 Rake
2 Waiting Round to Die
3 Marie
4 If I Needed You
5 Lungs
6 Saint John the Gambler
7 Tecumseh Valley
8 Kathleen
9 Two Girls
10 No Place to Fall

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Under The Satellite (2004)
Thoughtful and well-crafted melodic pop on second album from Danish group Rhonda Harris, which has been released concurrently with frontman Nikolaj Norlund's own debut solo album
The Trouble With (2002)

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