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Thomas Lang - Scallywag Jaz

  by Lisa Torem

published: 23 / 12 / 2017

Thomas Lang - Scallywag Jaz
Label: Select Label
Format: N/A


In our 'Re: View' section, in which we look back at albums from the past, Lisa Torem finds that the 30th Anniversary Edition of Thomas Lang’s 1987 debut album ‘Scallywag Jaz’ is even swarthier and more meaningful the second time around.

The reissue of Liverpool vocalist Thomas Lang’s debut ‘Scallywag Jaz’ with bonus tracks and B sides reminds us that excellently arranged music articulated by exemplary players and a passionate tenor is ageless. This double CD features the genius of co-producer and co-writer David A. Hughes, bassist/guitarist John Murphy, drummer Andrew Redhead and saxophonist Paul Thomas. Hughes brings ‘Fingers & Thumbs’ to a fevery pitch, hammering away assertively but tastefully at the keys. It’s magically layered and ethereal. Lang savours his phrases with the authority of a seasoned horn player. And the dramatic outro foreshadows the tone of the album’s subsequent tunes. The classic versions of ‘The Happy Man’ and a contemporary version finely illustrate Lang’s unarguable breadth, all to a lively Latin beat. The narrative is so sincere, too. Sax and synth loom seductively behind the singer, before the vocalist makes his grand entrance. There is also a live and “DJ” version. If you don’t, however, find the ballad essentially enthralling, you may regard the alternative versions as overkill. On ‘Sleep with Me,’ Lang offsets the brooding horn with earnest pleas. Whilst on ‘Strength,’ boosted by strident bass, he affirms an innocent and heartfelt longing. The title ‘Cry Baby’ belies this ballad’s playfulness and rhythmic swell. The contrastive ‘Logic’ relies on a minimalist approach—Lang’s battle is with a persuasive bass line and he handles the juxtaposition with thrilling sensitivity. “Don’t let me change your personality/Leave the world behind,” he utters, leaving the core relationship to the listener’s vivid imagination. ‘Sympathy,’ on the other hand, is a rousing synth-fest, blisteringly emblematic of the ‘80s. And on ‘Skin,’ one discovers a highly original approach to courtship. “Tell me to stop if you’ve had enough/I’ve never quite felt skin like this before…” ‘Spirit,’ starting barely above a whisper, allows Lang to cultivate instantaneous intimacy. ‘Injury’ takes a darker and deeper turn, but is no less compelling. ‘Bulgaria’ is a daring, orchestral delight, although one may wonder how it fits in with the other selections. Disc A also includes a cover of Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ which stars incredibly stylized vocals. ‘Mrs. Jones Meets Godzilla’ and ‘Have you met Miss Jones?’ boast sultry instrumentals - the ensemble weave in graceful nuance from beginning to end. Whether you empathise with the legendary woman or not, you will enjoy the way Paul Thomas shows a true mastery of his instrument; Lang’s tenor and bravado shine over every square inch. There is clear obsession in the air courtesy of the breathtaking ‘Mrs. Jones’ arrangements. On Disc B: ‘Versions, Vaults and Live’, listeners will find that ‘Mrs. Jones Part 2’ was recorded live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in 2011, but ‘Have You Met Miss Jones?’ had been recorded in Tokyo in 1991. (Five additional songs were also recorded live.). As a leitmotif, the renditions come off seamlessly as one smooth operator. Disc B’s new tunes, the effusive and hard-not-to dance-to ‘Scared’ and the bright, commercial ‘I Believe’ sparkle, too. Thankfully, Lang’s voice is a durable and exploratory instrument that brings the best out of the new and the old. The rest of this side, as the title suggests, dips into an assortment of live tracks and variations on a theme. I especially recommend Lang’s rendition of the Jacques Brel co-write ‘Sons of’. This is a widely-covered ballad for a few good reasons: The lyrics are enchantingly universal, the melodic rise is uplifting and the legato phrasing leaves ample space for vocal gymnastics or technical noodling. Yet with a song this pristine and structurally perfect, one may ask, ‘Where’s the room for improvement or embellishment?’ And that’s where a skilled vocalist like Thomas Lance comes in… The swerving instrumental and interpretive chances taken here breathe vivacious life into the lungs of this poignant classic. If only Brel could chime in on the anthemic chorus… So, in essence, this line-up of sincere balladry and versatile style is a great addition to a jazz and pop lover’s growing collection.

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Thomas Lang - Scallywag Jaz

Thomas Lang - Scallywag Jaz

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Interview (2017)
Thomas Lang - Interview
Liverpool-based singer-songwriter Thomas Lang to John Clarkson about 'The German Alphabet', his first album in twenty years which combines electronica with jazz and John Barry/Ennio Morricone influences


The German Alphabet (2016)
Versatile first studio in twenty years from Liverpool-based singer-songwriter Thomas Lang, who takes the influences of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and then updates them for present times

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