Various Artists

Soupsongs Live: The Music of Robert Wyatt

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How could one ask for more? Soupsongs Live: The Music of Robert Wyatt is a dream come true, what every Robert Wyatt fan has dreamed of since the day he retired from the stage. Except for one thing, that is: he was not on stage that night, October 10, 1999. He did not sing or play a note -- but it doesn't matter. Soupsongs Live is a two-CD set taken from that night. The event was put together by Wyatt, who chose the musicians: guitarist Phil Manzanera; trombonist Annie Whitehead and her band (Ian Maidman on voice and guitars, Janette Mason on keyboards, Steve Lamb on bass, Liam Genockey on drums); the horn section of Didier Malherbe (flutes and saxes), George Khan (saxes), and Harry Beckett (trumpet); and finally singer Julie Tippetts, who would complement Maidman.

Whitehead was in charge of the arrangements and she decided to dress the songs in a way similar to what is found on Shleep and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. It works perfectly. Songs are picked from every Wyatt album, with an emphasis on Rock Bottom, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (even the "Muddy Mouse" suite is performed in its entirety) and Shleep. The early-'90s material gets this treatment and suddenly tracks that used to sound a little outdated or weaker feel totally at home, including "Alliance," "Gharbzadegi," and even "Heaps of Sheep." "Yes, but what about the vocals?" one might ask. Indeed, 75% of Wyatt's intensity resides in his unique vocal delivery. Be reassured: Maidman and Tippetts deeply understand how he uses the voice. Most songs are interpreted flawlessly, with just enough personal touches to give them a personality that goes beyond the studio versions. Of course, some attempts fail to reach the strength of the originals: Tippetts can't be as playful as Wyatt on "The Duchess" and only he can give "Free Will and Testament" so much fragility.

But everything else is incredible. Highlights include "September the Ninth," "P.L.A.," the "Muddy Mouse" suite, "Gharbzadegi," "Alifib/Alifie," and "Soup Song." The sound quality is excellent. Every Wyatt fan deserves to hear this album and for every other human being, this is a chance to enter the world of one of the most original and personal songwriters of the last 30 years.

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