Audio Mixer: Paul Savage.
Recording information: Magnetic North Studio, New York (08/24/2014-08/29/2014); Peter Karl Studios, New York (08/24/2014-08/29/2014); Magnetic North Studio, New York (10/2014); Peter Karl Studios, New York (10/2014).
Scottish jazz pianist and composer Bill Wells has made his career out of eclectic collaborations, pairing his talents with a variety of indie rock fringe-dwellers and generally operating outside of the box with his acclaimed group the National Jazz Trio of Scotland. This outing under the Bill Wells & Friends banner finds the veteran bandleader leading an array of special guests through sparse reconstructions of both popular and fairly obscure nursery rhymes. Wielding a grant from from the arts organization Creative Scotland, Wells set up camp in New York, where he and Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake recruited various musical friends who were either living in the city or passing through at the time of recording. The resulting combos that populate these 15 tracks range from inspired to pleasantly odd, and Wells gets points for simply making situations like this album exist. His knack for conveying mischievousness and warmth are in full effect here, with some songs falling squarely on one side or the other but more often than not aligning in combined magic, like on the strangely mystical rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" sung in Japanese by Deerhoof's Satomi Matsuzaki. Many of the arrangements fall in the vein of gently melancholic cabaret with singers like Syd Straw, Isobel Campbell, and British folk legend Bridget St. John providing some very compelling performances over Wells' wistful piano work. St. John's take on "Ding Dong Bell" is particularly transformative, bringing out the maudlin tone of the familiar rhyme's lyrics. Of the assembled musicians, indie rock icons Yo La Tengo and jazz singer/pianist Karen Mantler and her trio act as mainstays throughout much of the album, providing both vocals and instrumentation for many of the tracks. Other guests include country singer Amy Allison, Hospitality singer Amber Papini, actor/singer Michael Cerveris, and music therapist Aby Vulliamy. ~ Timothy Monger