Squeeze founder, keyboard pounder and celebrity hounder Jools Holland succeeds in packing another of his big-band albums with well-executed tunes (and Walk of Fame cameos) on Moving Out to the Country, his big-band stab at traditional country. As a guy who has explored every traditional, piano-driven style in music, Holland is more than qualified to apply his considerable technique (and slick big band) to country standards -- that's not a problem. The question is "Do these country standards really need this kind of treatment?" Moving Out to the Country is no train wrecked collection of songs -- it's not bad by any means -- it's just odd, and that odd factor comes from two things. Foremost, the big-band arrangements (that work so well in a jazzy or bluesy milieu) add little to these rarefied country numbers, mostly succeeding in sounding competently busy at their best and, at their worst, a bit overblown. Not at all bad, mind, just a few paces out of step with these (largely) intimate tunes. Everything here swings, for better or worse -- save for the two Tom Jones numbers that, inexplicably, drop the big-band ball (if you've got a big band and you've got Tom Jones, wouldn't you want to let him tear it up? Well, it doesn't happen here). Instead, there's India.Arie hollering all over "Georgia on My Mind" or Lulu belting out "She'll Have to Go" over a tepid backdrop of Late Show house band slickness. The other odd factor comes from the slight creative missteps that occur when the wrong celebrity-cameo-singer meets classic-country-song-of-all-time. Case in point (with a happy ending) is Bob Geldof's stab at Kristofferson's "For the Good Times." Geldof convulses throughout, and it is such a bizarre reading/coupling that the song begs three or four additional listenings, simply out of sheer, bewildered fascination. Geldof does redeem himself (and Kristofferson) with his much better reading of the superb "The Pilgrim." Here Geldof slides into a more Leonard Cohen, talk-singing delivery that better suits his own voice, as well as the material (but a song as strong as "The Pilgrim" could hold up to anyone's interpretation, so there's that). There's also Marc Almond's weird turn with "Games People Play," which succeeds in instilling that same feeling of bewildered fascination, but without the replay value. Odd moments, couplings, and dropped-balls aside, there are some times when Holland and his big band hit the mark. Not surprisingly, it's Holland's own vocal takes that seem the most at home. "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" gets the whole band into gear -- horns and all -- and Holland' rambunctious left hand helps bring this rocker to a full boil. "Rocket to the Moon" amps things up even more with an arrangement so freewheeling and complex that it nearly matches Roy Wood's "Rattlesnake Roll" in intensity and craftsmanship. These hefty, rollicking numbers really show off the big band in the best light but, when things cool down and the arrangements get sparse, some of that much-needed intimacy creeps in. Louise Claire Marshall's lovely "Sweet Dreams" is a real winner, and makes you wonder why they didn't do the whole album like this. Great piano work and an admirably restrained vocal take serve this song well, and probably would have worked wonderfully for every tune on the record. Lulu's helming of "I Can't Stop Loving You" proves to be way more reserved than her swaggering and overblown "She'll Have to Go," and only adds fuel to the should've-done-the-whole-album-like-this fire. Brian Eno does his dramatic, slow-builder thing on "Dreaming My Dreams with You" and seems to be channeling his Channel Light Vessel-ing bro Roger in the vocal department -- not very "country," but nice. Holland and Dr. John share bandmembers and vocals on the alternately eerie, swaggering and rousing "Dead Hosts Welcome" and their two decidedly unique voices work surprisingly well against each other. Mark Knopfler has done this kind of thing before with his Notting Hillbillies (and turns in a comfortable "You Win Again" to prove it), and KT Tunstall and Richard Hawley slide just as easily into Holland's country vibe on their respective tracks. It's not a bad outing and, barring some creative missteps, Moving Out to the Country is a well put together collection that may not satisfy the purists but does a good job for the rest.
AllMusic Review by J. Scott McClintock
feat: KT Tunstall
feat: Jools Holland