Album review: Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Horses and High Heels’

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Don’t be fooled by the rich colors and bright sunlight on the cover of Marianne Faithfull’s 23rd album: The whiskey-voiced singer whose career has been marked by dark tales of doomed liaisons sung in a world-weary style that harks directly back to cabaret progenitors Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich hasn’t suddenly taken a turn to the emotional light. Look closer at the seashore cover image and you’ll spot an empty pair of red high heels at the shoreline from which a horse is sauntering away.

Teaming again with producer Hal Willner, who oversaw her critically lauded 2008 album “Easy Come Easy Go,” Faithfull delves into what she seems to know best: decay of all varietals, including the decay of passion, of relationships, even of civilizations in Tennessee songwriter-playwright-actor R. B. Morris’ benedictory “That’s How Every Empire Falls.”

The album was recorded primarily in New Orleans with backing from a number of Crescent City aces who bring a lively funk groove to several tracks including Jackie Lomax’s “No Reason” and New Orleans R&B patriarch Allen Toussaint’s “Back In Baby’s Arms.”

There’s stately rock elegance to “Prussian Blue” and the title track, two of the four numbers Faithfull co-wrote this time out, but the centerpiece may just be “Past, Present and Future.” The hyper-theatrical Arthur Butler-Jerry Leiber-George Francis Morton song sounds written for her with its fatalistic assessment of the prospect of happily ever after. “Was I ever in love?” she sings, uttering the query like it’s a distant and not terribly fond memory. Who else makes disillusionment sound so exquisitely beautiful?


— Randy Lewis

Marianne Faithfull
“Horses and High Heels”
*** (Three stars out of four)