Leicester Bangs (UK)
by Neil Blunt | May 31, 2011

Chris Bergson Band - Imitate the Sun (2 Shirts)

Interpretation of much-loved songs can be one of the finest traditions in the blues or one of its ugliest traits. The difference between molestation and magnificence in re-presenting a standard doesn't lie in affection or virtuosity but sensitivity: in asking not what a song can do for you but what you can do for it. One of the highlights of Chris Bergson's impressive 'Fall Changes' in 2007 was his stunning delivery of 'Are You Experienced', which carved a new path through well-worked ground. That, it seems, was only a taster for the remarkable transformation of Dylan's latter-day 'Standing in the Doorway', which illuminates this new collection. It's an urban myth of sorts that Dylan's songs are better for being sung by other voices; for all the hit singles he's gifted elsewhere the man's material is generally safest in his own hands. Here, a number he inconspicuously tucked away three tracks in to 'Time After Mind', is transformed into a memorable set climax, retaining all of its ancient wisdom but made glorious by lush playing and the plaintive richness of Bergson's vocal delivery. In an inspired arrangement the guitar is subtly restrained, often meshing seamlessly with washes of organ and a gentle drum/bass beat, allowing the narrator an unimpeded centre-stage. Where Dylan self-consciously role-plays the character in the story, however, Bergson goes that extra yard and becomes that character; he inhabits the song and makes it entirely his own.

This quiet authority extends into Bergson's own writing as well. No-one else making music in the modern world invokes the spirit of The Band like he does; opening duo of 'Goin' Home' and title track 'Imitate the Sun' are clear homages, but so strong they'd have been welcome on any of their last half dozen albums. The first is a glorious melange of world-weariness and careful optimism and the latter a funkier statement of the same, with some very pleasing saxophone from Jay Collins and a guitar solo so fine you're left wanting it to carry on for at least a quarter of an hour. By contrast, the two songs which follow have very different but quite distinctive echoes of Bruce Springsteen about them: 'Shattered Avenue', a sparse blues with haunting slide and engaging lyrics ('Hanging out on a balcony/Overlooking a KFC/4th July just you and me/And everything's alright') recalls the reflective solo Boss; while 'Hello Bertha' brings on the brass for a solid soul strut underpinning one of his strongest compositions so far. 'Laying it Down in White' is simply the most beautiful ballad you'll hear this year.

We weren't alone in our enthusiasm for 'Fall Changes'; MOJO made it their blues album of 2007. One of its great strengths was its ability to synthesise the best traditions of American popular music in a way that seems to have been forgotten these last thirty years. That skill is still much in evidence here, but topped off with enough contemporary flourishes to show that Bergson is thinking about the present and the future as much as he is the past. Once again it's an absolute joy to listen to and reveals more and more depth with repeated playing. Whether or not it will be enough to give him the critical recognition or the sales he deserves we'll have to see; but if our recommendation counts for anything then you won't want to miss out on the most vital album of 2011 so far.