Strange Weather, by Marianne Faithfull

The early 80s were a difficult time for Marianne Faithfull. Her long addiction to drugs was taking its toll and although she made a spectacular comeback in 1979 with Broken English, followed by decent albums on Island Records in 1981 (Dangerous Acquaintances) and 1983 (A Child’s Adventure), the habit just got worse. After she had a drug-induced incident and broke her jaw, she checked herself into the Hazelden clinic in Minnesota to get clean. She did get better, but during her stay there was romantically drawn towards a man in a much worse situation than hers, mentally unstable on top of his addiction. After leaving the clinic they lived together for a while until he committed suicide in April 1987. At this point Faithfull could have either chosen a familiar path and sank into another addiction bout, or immerse herself in a musical project that will act as a eulogy to that dark period. She chose the second, and as a result recorded one of the best albums of that decade, Strange Weather.

Strange Weather front

Marianne Faithfull, Strange Weather front

A saving grace for Faithfull during the previous years was her participation in Hal Willner’s project Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill in 1985. One of the main figures in the New York art music, Willner by that time produced tribute albums to the music of Nino Rota and Thelonious Monk with casts of thousands. As opposed to his first two projects who were instrumental, for his third project Willner had to pick singers. His choices covered a wide spectrum of singers including Sting, Lou Reed, Aaron Neville and Kurt Weill expert interpreter Dagmar Krause. He also picked Tom Waits and Marianne Faithfull, and thus created a long term artistic relationship that led to Strange Weather. By the way, the song Faithfull covers on the Kurt Weil album is Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife and her interpretation is one of the best I know for this song.

hal-willner

Hal Willner

In 1987 Hal Willner and Marianne Faithfull decided to collaborate again on a covers album, this time all performed by Faithfull. After many listening sessions to old material Faithfull picked up the songs she connected with the most and Willner started inviting guest musicians to the recording sessions. Three of them ended up on the title song, and together they create the perfect background to Faithfull’s passionate yet detached delivery. Fernando Saunders, long-time bass player for Lou Reed, Accordion-extraordinaire William Schimmel who you will have heard on the soundtrack of the film Scent of a Woman and many of Tom Waits’ albums (he plays that beautiful Accordion on Time from Rain Dogs).

But the star musician on this and other songs on the album is Bill Frisell whose unique sounding guitar accompaniment is weaving harmonic threads around Marianne Faithfull’s singing. Frisell is mostly known for his instrumental work but he is no less able playing behind a singer. Actually he is not playing playing behind, with with the singer. Check out One of These Days from his Americana album Nashville. Frisell first worked with Hal Willner on the Nino Rota album in which he played Juliet of the Spirits. Willner and Frisell developed a creative relationship over the years. Frisell on Willner: “There are these few people in my life who create an atmosphere that allows me to do interesting things. Hal’s one of those people. He creates these opportunities and invites me into them. He doesn’t tell me what to do, so I have to figure it out.”

bill-frisell

Bill Frisell

The song Strange Weather was written by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan after many conversations with Marianne Faithfull in which she described the toiling circumstances of recent years. They could not have done better than this song, which could easily be mistaken for another Kurt Weil Composition.

Faithfull’s voice at this point in 1987 is a far cry from the 60s sweetness she projected on songs like This Little Bird and As Tears Go By. Years of substance abuse and constant smoking dropped her pitch and made it raspy, a perfect match to the cabaret-like song. No other female singer could deliver such a great interpretation to a Tom Waits song. Here is Strange Weather, by Marianne Faithfull:

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Will you take me across the channel,

London Bridge is falling down

Strange a woman tries to save

What a man will try to drown

 

And he’s the rain that they predicted,

It’s the forecast every time

The rose has died because you picked it

I believe that brandy’s mine

 

And all over the world

Strangers

Talk only about the weather

All over the world

It’s the same

It’s the same

It’s the same

 

The world is getting flatter,

The sky is falling all around

And nothing is the matter

For I never cry in town

 

And a love like ours, my dear,

Is best measured when it’s down

And I never buy umbrellas,

For there’s always one around

 

And all over the world

Strangers

Talk only about the weather

All over the world

It’s the same

It’s the same

It’s the same

 

And you know that it’s beginning,

And you know that is the end

When once again we are strangers

And the fog comes rolling in

 

And all over the world

Strangers

Talk only about the weather

All over the world

It’s the same

It’s the same

It’s the same

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