Album Reviews

John Cale: Fragments Of A Rainy Season (Domino)

fragments-of

John Cale
Fragments Of A Rainy Season
Domino

When the annals of rock and roll are examined, one quickly discovers that John Cale is a man who has done it all. Aside from having his own varied and diverse solo discography that encompasses experimental music, jazz, rock, country, classical, and opera, with him working on some of rock music’s most influential and important records. A man not afraid to try something new, and, most importantly, a man not afraid to try something that might not work. In its own way, 1992’s Fragments Of A Rainy Season is a risky record. For this series of performances, Cale curated a setlist that culled songs from every aspect of his solo career, a career retrospective that he would then perform in a solo setting—just him, alone, with his piano or guitar.

Playing acoustic is risky, and it’s not always easy to make the tradition from a fully produced song to a stark, naked piece, but Cale’s selection is superb, and his performances here are intriguing. To be sure, a few of the songs he selected are pretty stark to begin with. “Buffalo Ballet,” from 1975’s Fear, “Cordoba,” from 1989’s collaboration with Brian Eno, Wrong Way Up, don’t stray too far from the original versions. Songs that do differ radically, such as Helen Of Troy’s “Leaving It All Up To You,” Artificial Intelligence’s “Dying On The Vine,” and Words For The Dying’s “On A Wedding Anniversary” all benefit from the rearrangements. The winner, though, is the album’s finale, a touching, gorgeous rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” recorded well before Jeff Buckley’s definitive version, and Cale’s raw emotion adds a depth to a song that had yet to become a modern classic.

Though this reissue features an extra disc of eight additional performances, they really aren’t essential listening—not because they’re bad or inferior (save for the difficult “strings” version of “Heartbreak Hotel”), but because Fragments Of A Rainy Season is a perfect record as-is. It’s one of the finest live albums rock and roll has ever produced, and serves as the best introduction to Cale and his fascinating musical career.

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