Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales: Room 29 ***
Marti Pellow: Mysterious ***
Inna De Yard: Soul of Jamaica ****
Chapter Two Records
Room 29 is a new song cycle inspired by Chateau Marmont, the legendary hotel on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, where the beautiful people have played for the past 90 years, from the stars and celebrities of Hollywood’s golden age, such as Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow and Howard Hughes, to rock’n’rollers Led Zeppelin.
It remains the hangout for today’s jet set, nowhere near as scuzzy as New York’s Chelsea Hotel but just as infamous – John Belushi died of an overdose there in 1982. Less dramatically, Cocker was dumped by a girlfriend on one of his stays at the hotel, though Room 29 was inspired by a separate sojourn in the eponymous suite, with its baby grand piano, a mahogany witness to all the decadent glamour and illicit assignations.
In imagining some of these encounters, Cocker adopts his best Book At Bedtime breathy voiceover right in your ear, though he has competition from the taped contributions of film historian David Thomson whose voice is as rich as most actors.
Once again, Cocker casts himself as the outside observer of sad and sometimes seedy goings-on, though his language is far from sensationalist – rather, he homes in on the minutiae. The music for the project came first but is entirely complementary. Chilly Gonzales keeps his playing simple, economical, yet lyrical, with the occasional string embellishment from the Kaiser Quartett.
There’s a throwback music hall feel to Clara, about the travails of hotel resident Clara Clemens, the daughter of Mark Twain, Harlow’s unconsummated second honeymoon with film producer Paul Bern is the subject of Bombshell and the playful and ominous Belle Boy flirts with musical theatre territory. A tantalising taster for the full audio-visual performance in August.
Renowned soul pop cheesemonger Marti Pellow brings the 70s funk on his latest solo album Mysterious, invoking the summery spirit of The Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire on the freewheeling Just Can’t Turn Back Now and breathy electro funk ballad Sunrise Never Fails. Pellow has an infectious fan’s love of the old sounds and mustered an A-team of ace veteran players, including the Tower of Power horn section, Latin percussion maestro Lenny Castro and bassist “Ready” Freddie Washington, to the sessions in LA’s Ocean Way Studios.
It’s easy to get lost in the innately soulful arrangements, although occasionally the mood spills over into pina colada and white stilettos territory and the Pellow tendency to overegg the vocals slightly mars an otherwise classy production.
Inna De Yard is a feelgood project bringing together reggae veterans and young bucks to create a sort of Jamaican Buena Vista Social Club field recording, with the likes of Ken Boothe, Lloyd Parks and The Viceroys revisiting grassroots tunes from the 60s and 70s. Soul of Jamaica was recorded al fresco in a matter of days, capturing the laidback and informal spirit of the music, as well as the innate sweetness in the jazz and soul inflections. But though the music is consistently soft and inviting, the message is often harder hitting, ranging from sorrowful lamentations to devotional praise, from the plaintive political pleas of Slaving and Crime to the masterful Boothe’s husky appeal on Artibella and the Caribbean cocktail of Jah Power, Jah Glory. ■