By Larry Jaffee
A tune-up, unplugged gig, this one was, leading up to the penultimate Royal Albert Hall capper this November 1.
The three-piece version of Karl Wallinger’s World Party that played New York’s quaint City Winery on Sept. 17 no doubt will pale in comparison in about six weeks to the wall of sound sure wallow through the sacred London music house.
Wallinger’s exquisitely crafted songs most certainly deserve such lush orchestration. Yet this rare gig – broadcast live over New York radio station WFUV and archived on the station’s website for all to hear – allowed the live audience a glimpse of how great songs get written. Just a few instantly recognizable acoustic guitar chord strums materialized into a would-be hit in a perfect world, such as a “Put A Message in the Box.” But midway through the hour-long set, Wallinger slumbered over to the electric piano and the same thing happened as he hit a few keys, conjuring out of thin air “She’s The One.”
Wallinger was in fine voice, his first local appearance in some time, and evidence enough that the London-based singer/songwriter fully recovered from the aneurysm that he suffered in February 2001, forcing him to learn how to speak again, let alone sing.
Releasing a solid [fifth] album, Dumbing Up, just months before, he needed that life-threatening curve ball like anyone could use a hole in the head; World Party never was that wildly prolific in the first place as a recording artist. I put Wallinger/World Party in rare company: not wildly prolific but when he puts something out there’s little filler among the originals, think Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, The Smiths, etc.
A successful gig at South By Southwest last March cemented the itch to get back on the road, and he and his two accompanists – David Duffy on fiddle and John Trumbull on guitar – have since played a few small shows around the U.S. before hitting UK stage for the first time in a decade. The support musicians provided a countrified feel to some of the dozen and change songs knocked out in an hour, although oddly no covers, which are in bountiful supply on Arkeology, a generous, five-CD compilation of unreleased material issued a few months ago.
Capturing his eclectic, impeccable tastes, Wallinger not only can mimic the Beatles, channeling either Lennon or McCartney, he also sends-up Prince and Sly Stone, showing his funky side and not bad for a pasty white guy from Britain. His renditions of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Sweetheart Like You” makes you wish Dylan had as good a singing voice.
Wallinger’s mostly an unsung (albeit critics’ favourite) Welsh treasure, who helped make the best early Waterboys records.
One of my favorite moments on the new collection’s five discs is when there’s some in-studio banter, and Wallinger apologizes for the real musician calling it a day. “You’re stuck with us,” he apologizes to the engineer, in a totally needless lament. The song is so perfectly crafted that any instrumentalist with basic licks can slay it.
About a decade ago I picked up a two-disc bootleg of unreleased World Party, and thing is most of those tracks – curios, outtakes, live tracks – aren’t even on the sprawling Arkeology. Karl, thanks for helping me be a completist!