Marianne Faithfull

Blazing Away

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Fully established as a dramatic, innovative singer with astonishing appeal and energy thanks to her string of excellent '80s releases, Faithfull concluded her renaissance decade with Blazing Away, an excellent live album recorded in New York's St. Anne's Cathedral. The crackerjack backing band deserves note in and of itself, including members ranging from the Band's Garth Hudson to Dr. John, plus regular collaborators Marc Ribot, Fernando Saunders, and her key partner Barry Reynolds. Faithfull and the players fit hand in glove track for track, with the emphasis on subtler arrangements and performances suiting the hushed, striking atmosphere of the performance. When the band shows its muscle, as with the snarling strut of "Guilt," there's no question of this being anything like easy listening. In general, though, the sense of cabaret meets modern nightclub dominates, with Faithfull's singing capturing the cracking tug of her vocals just so. The selection of songs ranges from the intriguingly obscure to the familiar enough -- "As Tears Go By" and "Broken English" take unsurprising bows, as does a lengthy brood on "Sister Morphine," "She Moved Through the Fair," and a commanding rip through the harrowing "Why'd Ya Do It?" There are two new numbers as well. The title track is the one song recorded in studio, with Reynolds and Saunders, plus a number of other musicians; it's got a nice steel guitar twang to it, and Faithfull tries for the high lonesome sound in her own wonderful way. Other flat-out highlights include a grand take on "Times Square" and a slow crawl through "Working Class Hero" that seethes with fire, both from the musicians and Faithfull.

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