Monday, March 11, 2019

That Old Feeling: A Quick Look At Two Recent Alex Chilton Collections

Two new Alex Chilton compilations have dropped from Bar/None Records and I'm here to write a few words about each. Songs From Robin Hood Lane and From Memphis To New Orleans, both out now, each offer up a lot of reasons for fans to seek these records out, even if the pleasures on each are disparate ones.

Songs From Robin Hood sees the former front-man of Big Star tackles a lot of standards. And the results are uniformly affecting and good. "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" reminds fans what a warm singer Chilton could be, while "That Old Feeling" reveals a vulnerable, imperfect crooner trying his hand at a new form. If Chilton here sounds like he's having a lark, and not entirely positioning himself as the next Chet Baker -- despite a cover of "Let's Get Lost" here on this new compilation -- he's at least willing to make himself tackle material that might be a bit out of his reach ("Like Someone in Love"), or that's far beyond needing a fresh interpretation ("All of You"). Still, for a guy who was likely doing this on a whim, the jazzy run at "Time After Time" proves that Alex Chilton had real chops as a cover artist in the Reagan era, beyond being simply a legendary songwriter.

Having moved to New Orleans in the Eighties, Chilton was out of the limelight by choice in those years, releasing a string of iconoclastic and sometimes difficult records to listen to for anyone who was hoping for something like a Big Star album. Collected here on From Memphis to New Orleans are the highlights from those releases, selections from Feudalist Tarts and High Priest, among other records, carefully culled to make up this set. "Underclass" has a fine sting, while the acerbic "No Sex" is clever and sorta funny. Elsewhere, "Dalai Lama" has a nice Nuggets-like vibe to it, while a ripping cover of "Little GTO" takes things even further back, to the kind of past inhabited by Chilton's own, pre-Big Star group, The Box Tops.

What we've got here on these two compilations are the two sides of post-Big Star Alex Chilton from right around the time that guys like Paul Westerberg started writing about the guy's legacy. Songs From Robin Hood Lane is the picture of the crooner that Alex always wanted to be, a fairly successful, intimate set of runs through standards that should warm the ears and heart, while From Memphis To New Orleans is a compilation of material from that odd string of records he made in the mid-Eighties. If this one didn't work so much for me it's probably down to me having worked in record stores in that era, and hearing his solo stuff far more than his Big Star classics on the turntables in the shops.

Songs From Robin Hood Lane and From Memphis To New Orleans are both out now via Bar/None Records.