I'm a sucker for 'side projects' of my favourite bands. A real sucker because after I buy the records I then realise that they're crap. I've never really liked any offshoots of The Wedding Present / Cinerama. Cha Cha Cohen had the elements of potential – Keith Gregory was in it – the bass player on Seamonsters, the man who discovered Pavement earlier than most – they had to be good. Only they weren't. Cha Cha Cohen were awful.
So many years on I've approached the new solo album by the current Wedding Present bassist with caution. Terry de Castro has played with David Gedge in The Wedding Present since their 'reformation' in 2004 and previously with Gedge's Cinerama.
My expectations were hardly helped by Swingers - the closing track on the last Wedding Present album El Rey featuring Terry's vocals. Out of place, out of mood and tagged on the end of an album which should have ended with (what is wrongly) the penultimate track Boo Boo, a classic Gedge full-on crushing guitar epic. The flow and tone of the El Rey was shattered by Swingers. And Terry's is not the strongest of voices – let's say understated.
A Casa Verde is a covers album with a difference – all the songs are Terry's rearrangement of tunes written by musical friends and fellow / former bandmates, many of whom perform on the record. The CD version has sleevenotes with Terry's comments on each song. This is as compelling a reason to keep buying CDs as the audiophile argument. Terry's thoughts on the genesis of the project and her connection to the songs as both performer and admirer complement the listening experience.
Her choice of album opener could have been obscure but no, it is a bold one given that a large number of listeners are likely to be Wedding Present fans. It's Dalliance – almost a deity amongst Gedge afficionados.
The original appeared on The Wedding Present's 1991 masterpiece album Seamonsters recorded by Steve Albini. It was grunge before grunge, emo before emo and a zillion times better than anything produced from these subsequent genres. A landmark album likely to forever more be my favourite. Anyone attempting to cover it (even a Wedding Present member) needs to be careful.
Terry's a big fan too and it appears we have her to thank for the regular appearance of Dalliance in The Wedding Present live setlists. Terry nails it with a significant reworking (and required gender reversal).
It is a country tinged work of gorgeousness, and the best Wedding Present cover I've ever heard. (If it counts as a cover of course – Gedge appears on the album too – and it is released on his Scopitones label).
Starry Eyed is the other Gedge song on A Casa Verde, co- written with Simon Cleave. Probably my favourite Cinerama song but here it loses the energy that made the Cinerama original such a treat. Shame, because I agree with Terry's comments in the sleevenotes about just how fantastic this song is. The vocal melody and the harmony is gorgeous but the urgency of the instrumental sections that made the original such a treat are watered down. Shame these bits weren't reworked completely – could have been a superb version.
These two Wedding Present / Cinerama songs are the obvious entry points for me – the only songs I am in any way familiar with. The rest of the album succeeds by showcasing Terry's talent for song selection, arrangement and performance.
My other highlights:
Animals That Swim's East St. O'Neill follows Dalliance and cements the album's gentle pace with observational lyrics. A real highlight from the album.
The Sun Is Always Sweetest is a touching hymn written by Dean Hawksley – a fellow Warwick University student. Terry also performs Hawksley's The Great Avalanche, reworked from “melancholy folk song'' origins to good effect.
America in '54 by Simone White ups the tempo with an acoustically driven tune recalling events and characters from Simone & Terry's days working in a vegetarian cafe.
A song of no small personal resonance to Terry as she highlights in the sleevenotes is Glorious - taken from her old band Goya Dress and written by Astrid Williamson (who also performs here).
The album closes with Williamson's To Love You. “You Don't Know What It's Like To Love You” is just a wonderful line from a wonderful, haunting song.
The songs I was unfamilar with have sparked curiosity in the originals and the output of Terry's mates. A Casa Verde is a success and I would love to hear Part 2 one day if Terry fancies it, or maybe this will give her the confidence to write and perform her own solo songs.
There are some fine choices among the 12 songs with enchanting storytelling and melodies. My favourites are East St. O'Neill and To Love You plus, of course, Dalliance.
The album has a gentle acoustic feel with more tinges of country / folk than guitar rock. This may not be to the taste of all Wedding Present fans but there are some imaginative arrangements here and no shortage of inspired musicianship.
Noisy it isn't. Recommended it is.