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Trenchcoats, shades, snap-brim hats, open-necked shirts and loose black ties. Not forgetting the cigarettes and alcohol. Vocalist Shamus Dark has a strong line in film noir visuals to complement the selection of songbook classics that appears on Trouble In Paradise. It's not just the cover photos: the videos that he's created to accompany many of the songs are also rich with that '40s B-movie glamor. This is a fine collectiona left-field take on the classics that reminds us how an artist's vision can throw new light on old favorites.
Dark's debut, Songs For Suicidal Lovers (Drum Records, 2006), also featured classic songsa cover of Joy Division's "Atmosphere" put in an appearance too. On his blog he's written of a musical career that pre-dates punk rock. The album was recorded in South Africa and Hong Kong, mastered at Abbey Road: hints of a globe-trotting life. But further details of his life are scant, the mystery persists.
In contrast to Dark's noir-ish visual imagery, his voice is surprisingly smooth and warmthe sound of a sophisticated crooner rather than a bluesy back-door man. An English crooner, tooDark pronounces "enchant," "grant" and "witchraft" in a way no American vocalist would ever do. Good on him. The avoidance of any pretence of an American accentor, even worse, a Transatlantic drawlgives his voice a distinctiveness and a bit of class.
The instrumentation is also rather at odds with the visuals. There's a saxophone, courtesy of the excellent Sean Freeman, but the electric guitar is at least as prominent and Paul Carmichael's bass guitar also features strongly. The result is a sound that obviously post-dates all of the songs on offer (the most recent composition, "Trust In Me," dates from the mid-60s) but is by no means locked into the 21st centuryechoes of '80s dance, '70s rock and contemporary jazz all sit happily side by side.
Dark's fragile vocal on "I'm A Fool To Want You" is beautifully accompanied by Victor Unukovsky
's well-judged acoustic guitar phrases. That fragility is carried over to "Here's That Rainy Day," Carmichael's slinky bass line and Adrian Sledmere's guitar adding a contrasting funkiness. On the latter third of Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me" Dark's voice gets some electronic tweaking. It really isn't necessarya jarring note to what is otherwise an impressively soulful performance. Dark's vocal on "Skylark" is crisp and precisethe musical backing, especially Paul Harvey's guitar, infuses the song with a soul groove.
The album's high point is "Trust In Me." Written by Robert and Richard Sherman for Walt Disney's film version of The Jungle Book (1967) it was sung in the movie by Kaa the python as he planned to eat Mowgli, the story's hero. Dark turns the song into a seducer's taleplausible yet ultimately a lie, the promise of safety and faithfulness is given to the accompaniment of Freeman's smooth saxophone. Who could fail to be swayed by such charms? Or, indeed, by the equally seductive charms of Trouble In Paradise?
Track Listing: You Go To My Head; Witchcraft; Trust In Me; Skylark; It's All Right With Me; The Nearness Of You; Round Midnight; Bewitched; Good Morning Heartache; I'm A Fool To Want You; here's That Rainy Day; Angel Eyes.
Personnel: Shamus Dark: vocals; Rick Laughlin: piano, keyboards; Sean Freeman: saxophone; Paul Harvey: guitar, backing vocals; Paul Carmichael: bass; Francesco Mendolia: drums; Victor Unovsky: guitar (5, 7, 8, 10); Adrian Sledmere: guitar (1, 3, 11); Pete Millward: keyboards (4, 10); Marc Parnell: drums (4, 6, 9, 10); Andy Dewar: percussion (1, 2, 3, 10).