MUSIC REVIEW – A Different Hat by Paul Carrack

By Marty Mulrooney

Paul Carrack A Different Hat

Paul Carrack is a singer/songwriter that  I imagine many people will have heard over the years, perhaps without even realising. The former Mike + The Mechanics vocalist breathed life into such hits as How Long by Ace and Tempted by Squeeze, and has written for artists such as The Eagles, Tom Jones and Jools Holland. A Different Hat is Carrack’s latest solo effort, an album that allows him to reinterpret his own back catalogue, as well as the classic hits of numerous other musicians he admires, whilst being accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 

I have been in awe of Paul Carrack’s voice since my childhood. Tempted by Squeeze is one of my favourite songs of all time. Without fail, Over My Shoulder and The Living Years by Mike + The Mechanics always get turned up high whenever they start to play on the car radio. There is a beautiful everyman quality to his voice that is undeniable.

Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

The first track of A Different Hat sets the tone for the entire album. Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today has been covered many times, yet with Carrack’s voice we finally get to experience it engulfed in a smokey, velvety quality that completely transforms the entire song. It is such a strong opening that I listened to it several times before continuing onward with the album. I may even prefer it to Newman’s original recording…

The success of inclusions such as Moon River and I Can’t Make You Love Me are forgone conclusions; Carrack’s voice is capable of being both gentle and powerful at the same time. He can take well known, well covered songs and still manage to completely make them his own. If the entire album had consisted of such tracks, it would have provided a pleasant, yet safe listen. Thankfully, he pushes things further.

I live on a battlefield
Surrounding by the ruins of a love we built
And them destroyed between us
The smoke has cleared
As I stumble through the rubble
I’m dazed, seeing double
And I’m truly mystified

The original I Live On A Battlefield, recorded by Carrack in 1989, had an upbeat, electronic sound to it that made it infectiously catchy. Perhaps too catchy: the lyrics were always more downbeat beneath it all, trying to rise up to the surface. The track’s new incarnation here is exquisite, much slower in tempo, allowing the haunting lyrics to finally come to the fore.

Peggy Lee’s I Don’t Know Enough About You is wisely not tinkered with, having stood the test of time amazingly well. Elsewhere, Nat King Cole’s For All We Know is slightly sped up and given extra layers with terrific results. Carrack’s own It Ain’t Over ends things on a high, the cherry on top of an album that manages to take a wide range of aging material and successfully bring it bang up to date.

Conductor and arranger on the album David Cullen admits during the CD notes that he initially didn’t have a clue who Paul Carrack was prior to agreeing to the project. Yet, just like I am sure many listeners of this album will agree, once he heard Carrack’s voice he was instantly taken aback by his “rich, warm voice.” It seems such a shame that Paul Carrack is still a relatively undiscovered gem. Then again, perhaps that is the key to his success: the music always comes first. My only complaint is that I wish there had been some faster tunes included: his reserved singing style remains enchanting, but I occasionally wished he would just let rip.

9 OUT OF 10

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2 responses to “MUSIC REVIEW – A Different Hat by Paul Carrack

  1. The thing about Paul Carrack for me, also a long term fan (said with not a hint of regret for the word fan) is that it’s clearly a natural talent, but one which has been nurtured and developed on the road – he is self taught as a musician, writer and singer and yet he never makes a big deal of the hard work and effort he has clearly gone through over many years to earn his ‘chops’. He hints at it in self penned songs like “Running Out Of Time’ and ‘It Aint Over’ but it’s always more reflective than a plea for acceptance. Frankly, I don’t think he cares about recognition – he just loves to sing and play and is thankful that we all love him doing it too.

    I have to admit that when I first heard about this album as a concept I thought “oh no” don’t do it Paul because too many other artistes had trodden over this classic style with size 12 boots. I’m not even happy with the good ones like Michael Buble who try to be true to the original because it ends up being a simply a copy that is never quite as good. What made this different is the wonderful orchestra who resisted going the Riddle/Basie route (they would have failed) and instead created a sweeping, rich and harmonic film like soundtrack to a series of wonderful, new interpretations by Mr Carrack. Is it jazz, swing, crooning, or love struck balladering in the classic Deano/Mathis/Nat Cole way? Yes to all, but its also so much more than these parts.

    The soul and intonation in his vocals is brought out to full effect with some very sympathetic sound recording/engineering, never drowned out by the percussion or high points of a track and the yearning and rasp in the vocals is never overplayed. It always feels like Paul is living the words and the song, just like Sinatra, Vaughn and Gaye before him…. you are lost in the mood and the emotion because its genuine.

    Every song is a gem, but highlights for me are I Cant Make You Love Me which brings me to tears, I Think Its Going To Rain (haunting, it sounds like the backdrop to a major motion picture) and For All We Know which gives the classic crooners a good run for their money.

    Even on Eyes of Blue, which Carrack has recorded at least 3 times over the years he has managed to pull out something new and refreshing – the bagpipes are simply magical and a complete surprise which works so well.

    Is this a great album – yes, but not for the obvious reason of tried and trusted songs. It’s great because it’s so unusual – it feels so like a movie soundtrack at times you feel that you could be in the cinema listening to James Horner and then you are swept away by the emotionally charged vocals and your lost, you stop doing whatever it is your doing and just listen – how often does that happen today. Before you know it the album’s over and you just have to put it back on again…. to make sure you heard it correctly the first time.

    The great Bobby Womack who played as a junior in Ray Charles band and went on to write over a hundred R&B hits was once asked if a white man can have soul – he replied that soul comes from the heart not the skin and that you cannot fake it. It’s obvious to anyone listening if you do. Paul Carrack is a natural born soul man of the highest order and we are so lucky to have him in this era of manufactured pop.

  2. I have made three USA # one albums, and have been a sound mixer all my life… This albums blows so many out of the water, is heartbreakingly sincere and intoned wonderfully by Paul Carrack’s so musical blues interpretation.
    In every regard this work is simply beautiful. Please pass my joy at hearing it to everyone involved Alan O’Duffy

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