Nikki Sudden – Playing With Fire + Tel Aviv Blues

January 01, 1970

(Troubadour/Easy Action + Earsay)

 

www.easyaction.co.uk; www.myspace.com/earsayrecordsil

 

One
of the maddening mantras of the late Nikki Sudden’s autobiography The Last Bandit (reviewed here at BLURT)
is that he will mention the recording of a particular track, and then follow it
with the phrase “Maybe it’ll come out someday.” The prose indicates enough
unreleased material to fill up a box set, something venerable British label
Easy Action promises for later in the year. Fortunately, Sudden’s old bassist
John C. Barry has compiled Playing With
Fire
(Troubadour/Easy Action), a collection of outtakes that at least
covers the period of recording his final (and best) LPs Treasure Island and 2006’s The
Truth Doesn’t Matter
(completed shortly before his death in March of that
year).

 

Amazingly,
there’s barely a bummer in the bunch – as explained in Barry’s liner notes,
most of these songs were left off the records for reasons other than quality
control. “I Know You,” “Don’t Look Back” (the obligatory, ahem, homage to T.
Rex’s “Bang a Gong [Get It On]” that appears on nearly every Sudden record) and
“Hanoi Jane” represent Sudden at his rocking zenith, channeling very spark of
inspiration he ever gleaned from the Rolling Stones, the Faces and Marc Bolan
into slices of transcendent rock & roll. (Bizarrely, Sudden wasn’t happy
with this version of “Hanoi Jane.”) His ballads channel the same spirit,
resulting in the lovely but still gritty “Pirate Girls,” “The Ballad of the
Bellman Bar” and “The Last Flash of the Cavalier Nation,” a tribute to his
beloved Bernard Cornwell novels co-written by Norwegian musician/Sudden
disciple Einar Stenseng.

 

Also
included is “Happy Birthday,” a tune intended for Treasure Island that Sudden talks about at length in his book, due
to the presence of his father Trevor Godfrey on piano – the only time father
and son played together. Things start to get silly near the end, with a loose
duet with Captain Sensible on Iggy Pop’s “Kill City”
and a brief improvised boogie called “Kamikaze Karaoke.” But the gorgeous,
contemplative “A Thousand Years Ago” brings everything back home, taking one of
the most fertile periods of Sudden’s career gently into the good night. Despite
being an odds ‘n’ sods collection, Playing
With Fire
is a near-perfect way to introduce friends and rock & roll
fans to the Sudden mystique.

 

Also
released in conjunction with the bio is the solo acoustic LP Tel Aviv Blues (Earsay). Recorded in a
studio in the titular city during a brief tour of Israel in 2002, the album presents
Sudden running through new songs, a couple of older tunes and some favorite
covers. Obviously meant to be a demo session, some songs include false starts
and post-performance mumbling, but that adds to the you-are-there informality
of the album. Version of Johnny Thunders’ “Diary of a Lover” and the Stones’
“As Tears Go By” come off well, as does a piano-based version of Sudden’s
rocker “Liquor, Guns & Ammo.” Some of the fresh material is a bit gimmicky,
particularly the obviously improvised “The Girls Are So Pretty in Tel Aviv
City” and “Tel Aviv
Blues.” But other new tunes like “Out of My Dreams, “Edge of Autumn” and
“Cathy” reveal sturdy melodies and superior craft. A recording this stripped
down, not to mention well recorded, doesn’t favor an artist of Sudden’s uneven
vocal talents, but he acquits himself decently, though his wobbly performance
gives his version of eternal inspiration “Get It On” a strange lilt. More of
interest to diehards than casual fans, Tel
Aviv Blues
shows a side of Sudden often mentioned in the book but rarely
heard on record.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Hanoi Jane” “The Last
Flash of the Cavalier Nation,” “Pirate Girls” (Playing With Fire), “Cathy,” “Liquor, Guns & Ammo,” “Out of My
Dreams” (Tel Aviv Blues) MICHAEL
TOLAND

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