Forgive me a non-British-Folk-Revival digression. I’ll get back to that good stuff at the weekend.
A few days ago, wasting time on YouTube, I saw a sponsored video come up in the corner. ‘Peter Bruntnell ft. Rumer – Played Out’.
What? The Peter Bruntnell? The Rumer? The Played Out?
Played Out is the highlight of Bruntnell’s 1999 album Normal for Bridgwater. Played Out is 14 years old. Typing that makes me feel pretty old myself. I clicked on the link, watched the video. It’s actually six months old now, but passed me by at the time. It’s a video for a re-recording of the song included on a recent best-of called Retrospective. The video shows Bruntnell, Rumer and band playing the song while sitting in a circle in an empty pub, possibly the same Camden pub I saw Bruntnell play in one Sunday afternoon in 2001, a pub that gave every impression of being Bruntnell’s local.
It’s a nice video, conveying a musicianly comradeship that may be longstanding or may be an invention of the video’s director. I’ve no idea if Bruntnell and Sarah Joyce knew each other previously or if their duet on Played Out is a record-company wheeze to boost Bruntnell’s chances of sales and airplay, but watching them, it doesn’t look or feel like a cynical exercise.
To the song, then. Like, I expect, the majority of Joyce’s fans (among whom I don’t count myself, although she’s got a nice voice), I’d rather the song had been a proper duet, with her taking a verse or two. Granted, that would have changed the meaning of the song, but that’s often what duets do, and the Normal for Bridgwater version (on which Bruntnell has the full-band backing of country-rock outfit Son Volt) is still out there for those who want to hear it. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent version, played with restraint and empathy by a good band, and sung very well by Bruntnell, whose voice has always sounded lived-in but has acquired a greater depth and slightly woodier quality than it had when he first cut this song in 1999. It’s a little slower, more reflective, less mournful, all of which is to the good. I could have done without the vocal processing and see no reason why Joyce’s backing vocals should have been doubled then both tracks panned not-quite-hard-right in the stereo field (narrowing the stereo for the benefit of radio? Really, guys?). But these are minor quibbles, and, without wanting to be too negative, I don’t expect great-sounding records from anyone in 2013.
Bruntnell’s a guy whom I go long periods without listening to, just digging out Normal for Bridgwater every so often and reminding myself of how low-key but very effective his songwriting can be (Bridgwater only comes unstuck when it tries to rock, on Shot From a Spring and Lay Down this Curse). If anyone who hadn’t heard NFB, By the Time My Head Gets to Phoenix or Handful of Stars was led to investigate Bruntnell and his old records by the presence of a big name on a single by a little-known singer-songwiter, then the new version of Played Out has done its job as a piece of realia, and as a musical item it needs no extra excuse. Slightly distracting mix decisions aside, it tops even the mighty fine original.
Peter Bruntnell, still from Played Out video