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Paul Weller’s songs soar on the majestic An Orchestrated Songbook

A selection of tunes from The Modfather’s considerable catalogue are given new life in the orchestral setting.
Paul Weller -- An Orchestrated Songbook cover art

Polydor (CD, 2-LP)
5 Stars

By John Curley

Recorded in May of this year at The Barbican Centre in London, An Orchestrated Songbook pairs the veteran British musician, vocalist and songwriter Paul Weller with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is conducted by Jules Buckley. The collaboration reimagines a batch of Weller’s songs from The Jam’s 1978 track “English Rose” to tunes from his 2021 studio album Fat Pop (Volume 1). Weller had worked with an orchestra before, as captured on his 2019 live album Other Aspects: Live At The Royal Festival Hall. But that recording featured Weller and his full band backed by an orchestra. On An Orchestrated Songbook, the only member or Weller’s band present is guitarist Steve Cradock. And that frees up the orchestra to add flourishes to the songs that make them radically different from the studio recordings.

The strings-heavy version of “Andromeda” that kicks off the album shows that Weller and the orchestra mesh perfectly. The swell of the strings toward the end of “English Rose,” quite arguably The Jam’s most beautiful song, is quite moving. And the orchestra adds a great deal of richness and poignancy to it, resulting in a positively breathtaking version of the song.

One the most stunning tracks on the album is the reworked version of The Style Council’s “My Ever Changing Moods.” The extended introduction to the song features a mournful-sounding trumpet and leads to the bright horn flourishes of the orchestra as Weller’s vocal kicks in. The horns on the song are terrific, as are the strings. The title track of Weller’s 2020 studio album, “On Sunset,” is given a tour de force reworking and features a great vocal by Weller, standout playing by Cradock and nice work by a flutist in the song’s midsection.

The Jam’s 1982 song “Carnation” is about a demagogue (likely Margaret Thatcher) but seems quite timely today. The orchestral introduction to the song here sounds a bit ominous. Weller provides a strong vocal, and the orchestra adds to the power of the song, making it incredibly moving.

“Glad Times” and “Gravity” are both given gorgeous performances. The take on The Style Council’s “It’s A Very Deep Sea” features a fanfare at the start before Weller joins in with his soulful vocal. It’s a wonderful version. Weller’s vocal has a fun jauntiness to it. The orchestra adds so much depth and color to the song. The work by the strings is amazing and the backing vocalists add some nice touches toward the end of the song.

The subdued performance of “Bowie” highlights Cradock’s guitar and Weller’s vocal. The backing vocalists play off of Weller’s lead vocal perfectly. On “Equanimity,” the orchestra swells at the start, then gives way to Weller’s piano and vocal providing perfectly understated backing. The song is a bit bouncy, and the great work by the horns toward the end of the song has something of a circus feel to it.

The strings provide some terrific work at the outset of “Still Glides The Stream.” Weller is in fine voice on the song, and the orchestra really takes the song to another level. Weller’s soulful vocal is the highlight of the scintillating performance of “Movin’ On.” The orchestra provides light backing for Weller’s powerful vocal on the beautiful take on “Rockets.”

There are three duets on the album. The British vocalist James Morrison joins Weller for a magnificent version of “Broken Stones." Morrison delivers his vocal in a soulful way, which fits the song well. The Style Council’s “You’re The Best Thing” features Boy George, who provides a nice vocal. The work by the strings makes the song even more beautiful than the studio version. The American-British vocalist Celeste contributes a great deal to the wonderful take on “Wild Wood.” It also features an outstanding introduction to the song by the horns and strings and another excellent vocal performance by Weller.

“You Do Something To Me,” one of Weller’s signature solo songs, is given a performance that builds in power as it goes on. Weller’s vocal on the song is top notch throughout, and the horns provide some tasty playing in the song’s midsection. The closing song, “White Horses,” features a great Weller vocal with perfect backing by Cradock’s guitar and the orchestra. And the orchestra drives it home toward the end.

An Orchestrated Songbook is yet another example of how Weller, a musical chameleon, continues to create and innovate.

Two songs from the album can be heard below.

“English Rose”:

“My Ever Changing Moods”: