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By Richard Harries
Rock Gently
People Change
Love's Been Good to Me
The Importance of the Rose
I Never Go There Anymore
Moving Day
Listen to the Warm
It's Raining
The Single Woman
Where Are We Now
Seasons in the Sun
As I Love My Own
About the Time
Solitude's My Home

Several years ago, I met Rod McKuen at the IPCS convention in Los Angeles. I thought he was a lovely man (and have always thought that Petula’s recordings of his songs such as THE WIND OF CHANGE are amongst her finest work). Rod delighted me when he publicly called Petula a ‘vocal genius,' which I believe she is. He told me that he was going to record a wonderful album with her.

Time went by, yet I always believed this album would happen, though it did seem a long time to wait. Then, last Christmas, we got the wonderful SIMPLE GIFTS/THANK YOU FOR CHISTMAS single (if you do not have it as you don’t buy singles, then you are missing a real treat) which really made me even more keen to have the new set. The Petula vocals were wonderful and the arrangements stunning, whilst these new and original Christmas songs by Rod were beautiful.

It seems so long since the HERE FOR YOU album, and, as much as I like that set, it was always made clear that it was recorded in a limited time and there were few surprises as so much of the content were songs that Petula over the years had sung on stage.

Anyway, I got SOLITUDE & SUNSHINE and put the CD on the player. I was confused at first and not sure about it as it seemed so introverted. I played it again and was still not sure. I played it once more and fell deeply in love with it, became mesmerised and have played it almost obsessively for weeks now. It has only come off the player so that I can listen to THREE (a download-only bonus track available exclusively here from Petula's official website, and every now and then so the new album from another of my favourites (see I do like other artists!), the English singer songwriter Richard Hawley can be played.

The arrangements are stunning and sensitive, the vocals are honest, real and just how Petula sounds today. Nothing manufactured, no dual tracking, no distracting backing vocals by her or anyone else, just sheer stark, effective great singing.

ROCK GENTLY is a very pretty track, with a naughtily seductive vocal and I think it is really good. But I also think it is the weakest of the set. Even the weakest track is really good!

Then comes the beautiful and evocative PEOPLE CHANGE, with its stunning and poetic lyrics like a bolt out of the blue. It is so true to life and, especially as one matures (as so many of us are doing), you realise that people you know, love and trust often change. This reflects my own life circumstances so accurately that it is really truly relevant on a personal level.

LOVE'S BEEN GOOD TO ME, of course, is so well-known by Frank Sinatra. When he has recorded a composition it is very difficult to rework his material (just as Petula classics are almost impossible to cover well). Petula gives this an effective, intimately personal and believable reading which ALMOST makes you forget Mr. S's wonderful and successful version.

The bouncy and romantic THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ROSE is very effective with Petula having slightly more work to do than Rod. A really sweet and ‘sunshine song’ it also demonstrates their joint love of the French tradition of songwriting and how much they have musically in common. A real union of like spirits.

I NEVER GO THERE ANYMORE has a great jazzy, bluesy arrangement and Petula’s vocal is startling in its clarity. For a moment or two, it reminded me of the arrangements on her wonderful IN OTHER WORDS set of the early sixties. A lovely, sad song.

MOVING DAY is such a clever song, with the lyrics having so many true and real meanings. The singer is moving from her house and some of the sentiments and phrases brought to mind an old Clark classic, JUMBLE SALE. Then the singer is moving on in her life and she is being moved in her emotions about the events of the day. So much to think about and so many emotions it has brought to me about eventful times in my own life. I am sure Petula felt the same and related it to her experiences.

LISTEN TO THE WARM is charming and seductive. It's another contrast between the sad, dark songs and the sunny bright ones. Petula’s vocal is so sweet, clear and above all, sensual.

IT’S RAINING is a song that on any other album would be outstanding. This set is so good that this sensational track is just one of many where the song, production and performance excel. The spoken introduction is not only unusual and heartfelt but also amazingly long. Very effective and then the sung vocal is wonderful. Petula empathises this poignant and sad lyric like no other vocalist could.

THE SINGLE WOMAN is again stunning and as Terry Young stated in his review for the IPCS magazine, there is much within the lyric and sentiment of the song that must have made this great interpreter think of her own life circumstances. Again, she truly lives the lyric and produces a fantastic piece of work.

WHERE ARE WE NOW is a great song which Rod describes in his notes as ‘two soliloquies’ and a very apt description this is. This really works naturally better than most duets do, perfectly fitting the vocalists together. Lovely.

SEASONS IN THE SUN is a complete revelation and if there is any justice in the world (which of course there probably isn’t), then this should be issued as a single and this stunning interpretation should make the song #1 all over again. Don’t worry, I do not expect this to happen but it would be great if it did. This hugely famous, but somehow disliked, song becomes a poetic masterpiece with the performance of a brilliant, mature voice giving a fantastic and sensitive rendition. As Don Black said once to Petula, "You always LIVE your songs." This vocal performance is truly incredible. This is the first time I have actually listened to the lyrics rather than accepted the song as a sound and little more. The hearbreak felt is genuine.

The next track, AS I LOVE MY OWN, has a great, upbeat feel and arrangement with a bright, sexually aware vocal affirming that there are GREAT things in life as well as sad ones.

Then, ABOUT THE TIME comes along, and I find this master to be a mind blowing experience. Only a singer of Petula’s ability and experience could pull off this masterpiece of melancholia. It sounds like Brect, Weill and Brel got together to write a doomy diatribe for Nina Simone or Scott Walker (more of my favourite singers). Petula gives this fantastic song the most wonderful reading with every nuance and inflection carefully delivered in a world-weary piece of sheer brilliance. I honestly believe this joins WIND OF CHANGE and COMME UNE PRIERE as her finest recorded works, and the thought that she can pull this off at this stage in her career is truly wonderful and amazing.

How to follow that? Well, SOLITUDE’S MY HOME is stunning and finishes the album perfectly. Quite different from the previous track, it is still sombre and delicate and sung beautifully. Interestingly, the first few notes reminded me of Jackie Trent’s composition WHAT WOULD I BE.

I must mention the great and very generous track Rod has gifted us as a bonus, called THREE. It is a very charming and sad narrative story track which Rod states is a concert audience request at his concerts. It is so charming that I can see why this is so. A delight.

So Rod many thanks .

Petula very many thanks.

You know (especially as Rod mentioned in his sleeve notes that there are around a dozen more recordings in the can) that we are all going to ask for Volume 2. Then, we will also want him, naturally, to issue an album of Clark compositions. How about this:

Now that would be bliss indeed . . .

Happy listening,

Richard Harries
August 2007