THE HEARTBREAK KID: Dave Kusworth

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As evidenced on a reissue of one of his most elusive and sought-after artifacts, the Brummie boffin emerges to be as crucial a listen as his late collaborator Nikki Sudden.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Originally released in 1996 as a limited edition on stellar German label Glitterhouse, Princess Thousand Beauty has long been one of the rarest items in Dave Kusworth’s catalog. Fortunately British rock & roll label Easy Action has dedicated itself to the cause of bringing the work of this far under the radar Brummie back to the world, as it has with the oeuvre of  Kusworth’s longtime cohort Nikki Sudden (covered not long ago in these very pages).

Dave Kusworth cd

Beauty is essentially a continuation of Kusworth’s previous record All the Heartbreak Stories, one of the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s most romantic – some might say sappy – works. Unlike Heartbreak, however, Beauty never drowns in its own lushness, despite generous use of strings. Part of the album’s backbone grows from Kusworth’s utter commitment to his sentimentality – when he sings “I’ll always be there for you” in his plainspoken, vaguely offkey warble, you believe him. But it also has to do with the variety of stylistic permutations in which Kusworth indulges. Widescreen pop like “Temptress” and “Always Be There For You” shares space with the precious pastorality of “All My Dreams About You” and the subtly funky rock/pop of “False Promises.” The bulk of the record relies on the kind of anthemic balladry that can easily slide into vomit-inducing goop. Here, though, “She Lives in a Movie,” “Just a Girl” (with a great take-me-home guitar solo from Kusworth) and “Torn Pages” work in precisely the way these kinds of songs are supposed to. Wrapping accessible melodies around a perfect balance of heart and drama, they practically beg for lighter apps waving in the air. It sounds cheesy, but it’s a good thing – the ability of Princess Thousand Beauty to remind us how and why sentimental anthems connect is part of what makes it special.

As a bonus, this edition tacks on a faithful rendition of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” which is nice but out of place with the rest of the record. A better supplement is the second disk, which contains an entire live acoustic show featuring Kusworth and guitarist Glenn Tranter. For all of Kusworth’s rock & roll bonafides, he’s quite comfortable in this format, his heart-on-sleeve balladry thriving with so little accoutrements betwixt song and singer. Kusworth wanders across his catalog here, from Beauty cuts “She Lives in a Movie,” “Torn Pages” and “Always Be There For You” to solo classics “Paint & Sugar” and “Everything’s For Her” to a selection of gems from the Jacobites catalogue. Plus a pair of covers; the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” (which Kusworth credits to Townes Van Zandt, for some reason) is no surprise, but a decent showing on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” is. Arguably 67 minutes of acoustic balladry seems a little much without the color the studio record brings to these songs, but it’s still a strong live showing for one of rock’s most potent iconoclasts.

Those that prefer their Kusworth on the more overtly rocking side should note the release of the Rag Dolls’ Such a Crime, the first album from the quartet Kusworth co-led right around the time he started working with Sudden in the Jacobites. Recorded at various demo and radio studios in 1982-1984 and assembled into an album for the first time, the songs on Crime bespeak an unsurprisingly love of the Rolling Stone and the Faces, with just enough of an early ‘80s power pop edge to make the tracks more than knockoffs. Backed by bassist Mark Lemon and drummer Carl Bevan, who would both cycle in and out of the Jacobites axis in coming years, and sharing writing and singing duties with Simon “Slim” Cartwright, Kusworth indulges in guitar rock both crunchy and jangly, sometimes at the same time.

As might be expected, the Dolls get groovy on the riff-rockers “Streets of Gold,” “Such a Crime” (represented by two very different versions) and “What You Don’t Know (You Won’t Show),” and anthemic on soon-to-be Jacobites numbers “Pin Your Heart to Me” (likely the first recording of that standard) and “Snow White” (with a very 80s sax solo). Guitars ring more than rage on the folk-rocking “Lucky Smiles” (which also gets a slightly altered do-over later), “Do Anything” and “Sparrows,” the latter featuring a particularly strong Cartwright vocal. Less professional recordings round things out, with a grungy live “Fortune of Fame” and a pair of rehearsal takes on the rock ballad “Silken Sheets” (another future Jacobites track) and the acid garage rocking “Vanity Box.” The high quality of both songs and performances makes one scratch the noggin at the silliness of a clueless music industry, but it was the early 80s: rock & roll records weren’t selling that year.

Fortunately, Easy Action knows exactly how to handle Kusworth’s work. (In the case of the Dolls, the treatment includes liner notes from Pat “The Jazz Butcher” Fish.) These rescued recordings continue to hammer home the notion that Dave Kusworth is a rock & roll true believer worth discovery and rediscovery.

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Below: a clip of Kusworth and Nikki Sudden, aka the Jacobites, live in 2003.

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