April 14, 2009

Artist Bios

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cover-mfeasy-come-easy-go1Months after the completion of her new Decca/Universal album Easy Come, Easy Go, Marianne Faithfull still sounds amazed by the process and delighted with the results.

“We cut eighteen songs in nine days with just a few takes of each number. I know Miles Davis made Kind of Blue in two days but I think everyone was impressed by the pace we maintained and by our rate of success.

“We really worked on getting it done in one piece, and that was hard work, but the fact that we were all in the room together, the musicians and myself – that’s what gives this recording its urgency. What I liked and what I still enjoy hearing is the air blowing through the tracks: the space between the instruments, the space around my voice.”

The twenty-second album of her fabled career and her first for Universal Decca, Easy Come, Easy Go reunites Marianne Faithfull with producer Hal Willner in their first album-length collaboration since Strange Weather in 1987. (Hal also produced Marianne’s 1990 live set Blazing Away and three tracks on her 2005 release Before The Poison.) On the aural evidence, the passage of time has only strengthened Marianne’s abilities as a vocal interpreter and enhanced Hal’s formidable talents as a song selector and recording director.

“This album really was different to everything we’ve done before – in the method of recording, in the range of songs we chose,” says Marianne. “We have that history between us, and over that time Hal has become even more skilled at what he does. We were both in a very good place in our lives to do this album.”

Hal and Marianne ranged over nearly a century of pop music in choosing the songs for Easy Come, Easy Go. Billie Holiday’s brooding classic “Solitude” (composed in 1934 by Duke Ellington) and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” (a Number One country hit in 1968) blend seamlessly with contemporary songs by Espers (“Children of Stone”), Morrissey (“Dear God Please Help Me”), and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (“Salvation”). In the assured treatments of Easy Come, Easy Go, this very diverse material sounds all of a piece, each composition adding new colors and images to the complete work.

The expansive two-CD set contains a total of eighteen tracks, and on ten songs Marianne is joined by a special guest or two. The striking arrangement of Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby” features Antony (of Antony & the Johnsons) and Jarvis Cocker appears on the Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein classic “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Sean Lennon performs on three songs including “The Phoenix” and (with Chan Marshall a/k/a Cat Power) the Neko Case composition “Hold On, Hold On.” The Wainwright/McGarrigle clan is well represented with Rufus Wainwright singing on “Children of Stone” and Kate and Anna McGarrigle (Rufus’ aunt and mother respectively) adding their unmistakable harmonies to “The Flandycke Shore.” Easy Come, Easy Go closes with the latest chapter of a treasured friendship, now in its fifth decade, as the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards joins Marianne for “Sing Me Back Home.”

Easy Come, Easy Go was recorded in December 2007 at Sear Sound – the oldest continuously operating studio in New York, founded in 1963. The core band assembled by Hal Willner included guitarists Marc Ribot and Barry Reynolds (the latter a crucial contributor to Marianne’s 1979 comeback Broken English), bassist Greg Cohen, keyboard players Rob Burger and Steve Weisberg, and drummer Jim White. Steven Bernstein, Greg Cohen, and Steve Weisberg are credited with arrangements on various tracks including the beautiful clarinet choir heard on “In Germany Before the War” (arr. Greg Cohen) and the New Orleans-style horn lines that illuminate the Bessie Smith title song “Easy Come, Easy Go” (arr. Steven Bernstein).

Following the celebration of her 64th birthday with a trip to India, Marianne Faithfull looks forward with great anticipation to her 2009 stage schedule beginning with an orchestral concert at St. Luke’s Church in London for filming by the BBC. “In the spring I’ll be doing a run of New York shows with the band that made the album. In June I’ll be singing Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins at the Salle Pleyel in Paris with Dennis Russell Davies conducting, and doing two more shows at the Cite de la Musique with the new songs and the musicians from Easy Come, Easy Go.”

“I’m so very proud of this recording and I can’t wait to sing these songs for an audience. I know there’s much to be fearful about in this world – there always is – but there are also as many reasons to be hopeful I think it’s going to be a fantastic year.”


“Down From Dover” (Dolly Parton)

This starkly beautiful song of love and betrayal has been covered several times since Dolly Parton introduced it on her 1970 album The Fairest Of Them All. But no other version wields quite the devastating effect of this one, arranged for small band, horns, and strings by Steve Weisberg.

“Greil Marcus is a critic–well, ‘critic’ is not really the right word for Greil, he’s a writer and a musicologist and he loves a lot of different things. He sent me the book and CD he put together [with Sean Wilentz] called The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad. There were a lot of wonderful songs on it and one of them was this Dolly Parton song ‘Down from Dover.’

“One of my gifts is to tell a dramatic story, and this is a really interesting and really dramatic story…I think it’s one of the strongest songs on this record.”

“Ooh Baby Baby” (William “Smokey” Robinson & Pete Moore)

The call-and-response interplay of two singular voices – Marianne Faithfull and Antony Hegarty – transforms Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ heart-rending 1965 ballad. Steven Bernstein did the lush Seventies soul-inspired arrangement, conducted the band (including a saxophone quartet), and played mellophone and glockenspiel.

“It’s a strange idea, you know, for Marianne Faithful to sing a Smokey Robinson R&B song. I was very unsure until I found out that Antony could do it with me, because I couldn’t do all that wild sort of incredible virtuoso singing – he’s got such a beautiful voice. To do the song with Anthony really made it possible…we also listened to a later version by the Honey Cone that was funkier and more extravagant. But this isn’t like Smokey Robinson or the Honey Cone – it’s something completely different.”

“Dear God Please Help Me” (Morrissey/Ennio Morricone/Alain Whyte)

Lou Reed recommended this song to Hal Willner for Marianne’s consideration. Originally issued on Morrissey’s 2006 album Ringleader of the Tormentors, “Dear God Please Help Me” was co-written with famed Italian film music composer Ennio Morricone. Steve Weisberg arranged and conducted the band, which is augmented by a string quartet.

“I love it! The lyrics rang true because I do believe I have to help seek spiritual help all the time—and it helps. But I really loved the whole song, the anguish and drama – quite amazing. It’s an anarchic song, not conformist in any way, and very sexual. I think Morrissey writes very good songs, I’ve always been a great fan of his work.”

“Solitude” (Duke Ellington, with lyrics by Eddie DeLange & Irving Mills)

Circa 1995, Hal Willner recorded a version of this all-time American standard for the Robert Altman film Kansas City. Steven Bernstein’s arrangement is adapted from the earlier ones he created for the Altman soundtrack but it sounds custom-made for Marianne, whose idea it was to include the song on Easy Come, Easy Go.

“It’s always a big challenge to record a famous number like this, because it’s been done so well—what can you bring to it? But in a way, it’s very personal for me and I knew I could put it across…I remember I was a bit late getting to the studio that day but I had a coffee, walked into the vocal booth, and we did it in one take. Sometimes that really works with me, before I know the song too well…I think it’s beautiful. It makes me want to cry.”

“In Germany Before The War” (Randy Newman)

Randy Newman first recorded “In Germany Before the War” on his 1977 album Little Criminals. Bassist Greg Cohen, whose résumé includes several years with Ornette Coleman, arranged and conducted the track for Easy Come, Easy Go.

“Hal told me that Randy really likes this version—which I was delighted to hear, since Randy can be quite critical of other people’s interpretations of his songs…It’s not Weimar, it’s not [Bertolt] Brecht and [Kurt] Weill, but it’s in that mood and I’m really good at bringing that feel to it. The song actually was inspired by the true story of a child-killer in Dusseldorf—Randy’s ex-wife was from Dusseldorf and it was she who first who told him about it.”

“Sing Me Back Home” (Merle Haggard)

Marianne heard this number on a legendary Keith Richards bootleg album of casually-sung country songs on which the Stone’s version of “Sing Me Back Home” very nearly channels the spirit of the late Gram Parsons (1946-1973). The Merle Haggard composition thus was added to the “to do” list of songs she presented to Hal Willner when they began planning Easy Come, Easy Go – and of course Marianne had to call in her old friend for another go-round on this timeless piece of Americana.

“It was one of the songs Keith and Gram Parsons used to sing, when Gram was still alive…that’s probably how Keith got the arrangement. It just is a beautiful song to sing with somebody, and I’m very lucky to have this somebody. Keith was stuck in Toronto after a drug bust [in 1977] and he just went into the studio on his own and made a record, which only ever came out as that bootleg…

“When I first asked Keith if he would help me with this, he sent me a note that said: ‘I will do it for you if you do it for me’ – which is to ‘sing me back home.’ And I wrote back: ‘Of course I will. You can depend on that.’


Born December 29, 1946 in Hampstead, London, Marianne Faithfull became an international pop star at seventeen when her 1964 recording of the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards song “As Tears Go By,” produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, became a Top Ten hit in the UK and reached No. 22 in the US. In the course of two heady years, Marianne placed three more singles in the UK Top Ten and released five albums (Marianne Faithfull reached No. 12 in the US and No. 15 in Britain). Her beauty and charisma led to roles in the 1968 film Girl On A Motorcycle (a/k/a Naked Under Leather) and in British stage productions of Chekhov’s Three Sisters (1967) and Hamlet (1969). But by the end of the Sixties, personal problems had brought Marianne’s career to a halt. Her years in the wilderness of drug addiction have been well documented, not least in her entertaining and insightful 1994 autobiography Faithfull.

The singer made a tentative return in 1976 with a country album, Dreamin’ My Dreams, but did not truly re-enter the public consciousness until the release of Broken English in 1979. Its modern-rock sheen and danceable tempos created a catchy framework for her care-worn voice and for the biting sentiments of “Why’d Ya Do It” and the title track (both co-written by Marianne) and her brooding cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” Broken English breached the Billboard chart and paved the way for two further well-received releases, Dangerous Acquaintances (1981) and A Child’s Adventure (1983).

In 1985, the Hal Willner-produced tribute album Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill featured Marianne Faithfull’s performance of “Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife,” on which her voice proved exceptionally suited to Weill’s dramatic compositions. It led, in 1987, to Strange Weather – the singer’s first full-length collaboration with Hal Willner and the first Marianne Faithfull album to be recorded after she’d truly recovered from her addiction. This “dark, challenging masterpiece” (AllMusic.com) included Marianne’s peerless interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan (“I’ll Keep It With Mine”) and Tom Waits (“Strange Weather”) alongside pre-rock and roll standards (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Yesterdays”) and a stunning reprise of her first hit, “As Tears Go By.” (“Forty is the age to sing it, not seventeen,” she later remarked in an interview for Vogue.)

In 1989, Marianne sang the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill oratorio The Seven Deadly Sins at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; writing in The New York Times, John Rockwell praised her “fine blend of dramatic world-weariness, quivering timbral allure, conviction of phrasing and bitterness of declamation.” Another Brooklyn venue, the venerable St. Ann’s Church, was the scene of her live recording Blazing Away (1990), on which Marianne revisited her catalog with an all-star band including Dr. John and Garth Hudson on keyboards; and guitarist Mark Ribot, now heard – a mere eighteen years later – on Easy Come, Easy Go.

Marianne joined forces with noted film composer Angelo Badalementi for the 1995 album A Secret Life; sang The Threepenny Opera at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and released of one of her most admired albums, the Daniel Lanois-produced Vagabond Ways, in 1999. At the turn of the century, she successfully revived her acting career with appearances in Intimacy (2001), Marie Antoinette (2006), and her acclaimed starring role in Irina Palm (2006). She enlisted some of her many friends and admirers in the contemporary pop community for the albums Kissin’ Time (2002, with Billy Corgan, Beck, Pulp, and Blur) and Before The Poison (2004, with PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Damon Albarn and Jon Brion). Also in 2004, Marianne Faithfull returned to the stage in The Black Rider, a Faustian musical created by Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and the late William Burroughs. Marianne sang the role of “Pegleg” in London, San Francisco, and Sydney until health problems forced her withdrawal from the show. She returned to private life until the fall of 2007, when Fourth Estate Press published her second volume of memoirs, Memories, Dreams And Reflections.

While the defining statements of many artists are made during their early years, Marianne Faithfull continues to develop her own voice: She sets herself aside from her contemporaries in her continuing quest to explore new creative areas in a career that has always been a positive process of self-assertion.