Huey and the New Yorkers – The After Hours EP (groove rock)
Naim NAIMCD184, 2013, CD & DD EP, 15m 52s
£2.99 DD £4.99 CD
Fun Lovin’ Criminals were a major part of the sound of the ‘90s for me; this was the decade in which I had my 20s, achieved my ambition to become something tangentially similar to a professional musician, met my now wife, and became, to my lasting amazement, father to the most intellectually impressive entity I’ve ever encountered (although that didn’t become apparent until she’d just been the loveliest person I’d ever met for a few years). In other words, I have good associations with FLC. My 20s weren’t all good, but the period in which their first two albums came out was one of the best parts of my life so far. I loved their combination of rock, groove and rap, but the most striking thing about the band was Huey Morgan’s incredibly charismatic vocals; bizarrely, this brilliant band didn’t sustain their success, or transfer it from the UK to their native shores, and Morgan has remained on the public radar largely as a minor celebrity, although FLC albums have come along at regular intervals. Then last year an album appeared under the banner of Huey and the New Yorkers, containing a set of mostly groove based rock, with a couple of Huey’s trademark cool sentimental numbers thrown in. This EP dates from shortly before the recording of Say It To My Face, and is basically a jam session, although here a ‘jam’ means some songs played in an informal manner, not a trans-galactic open-ended improvisation.
It’s interesting to get an insight into the nascent sound of the project that was topped, tailed and mastered for the album, rather than (as is the case with most such album-related EPs) a selection of recordings from the same sessions that didn’t quite make the cut. It’s very recognisably the same band, although Say It To My Face is somewhat more polished, and the interpretations of these songs make perfect sense in light of the groove-centric original material on that album. This is a collection of cover versions, a common thing for a band to apply themselves to by way of building a sound and a creative rapport, and it benefits from its brevity, in contrast to the rather bloated and grandiose tributes-to-their-influences produced by many otherwise quite disciplined acts. ‘Guns On The Roof’ is not particularly well known as Clash songs go, although I think it’s one of the strongest on Give’ Em Enough Rope: Huey and the New Yorkers make a slicker recording of it, with a more driving rhythm section, a punchier full-range mix and a very tasty guitar solo. Although they play it in their own way, they obviously get it, and do more than justice to the song. Next up is ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ from The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup: like ‘Guns On The Roof’ its themes involve police and guns, and this version similarly updates the feel to something very focussed and punchy. It’s very funky as well, and with Huey’s delivery on the verses it sounds a lot like an FLC song. I don’t know the music of Tommy James or his band The Shondells, so I can’t comment on the faithfulness of the rendition of ‘Draggin’ The Line’; all I can say is that it’s a slinky blues shuffle that exploits the gravelly depths of Huey’s voice. ‘My Funny Valentine’ is a standard, and the band give it a reading very close to the interpretation of ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ to be found on FLC’s Come Find Yourself. A vinyl crackle ambience sets the tone nicely under the drummer’s brushwork; the harmony is simplified into a triadic country-music arrangement, which gels well with the sustained tremolo chords, and the almost unfeasibly charismatic vocal delivers a take on sentimentality so stylish it hurts. ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’, whose vocal is accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, is delivered with more informality and intimacy than anything else on the EP; I spend a fair amount of time accompanying an acoustic guitar on a fretless bass, which makes me unreasonably sensitive to minor tuning discrepancies, so my teeth do keep gritting as I listen to this one, but it’s really a good take on Bob Dylan’s material.
The trick to a good cover version, which is to say a version of a song that already exists in an ubiquitously well-known recording, is to give a nod to the established meanings of the piece while presenting it from an angle that is novel in some way. Huey and the New Yorkers succeed quite emphatically in all of the songs on The After Hours EP, showing respect for the uses that have already been made of their material while making a sound that is undeniably their own, and undeniably that of the band that plays on Say It To My Face. The performances are all polished enough to make the listener feel that they are being entertained, but informal enough to sound like a peephole into the band’s private musical universe. This is not a particularly ambitious EP; it’s basically just a bit of fun. Well, a lot of fun. You should hopefully be able to tell from the above description whether it’s your sort of thing; if it is (and it is unequivocally my sort of thing), you should definitely get it.