Nostalgia 77 – The Garden

A vivid little yard

An artist’s career is obviously chronological – a listener’s history of the artist’s work rarely is. This is Benedic Lamdin’s second album under the name Nostalgia 77, to me it was the first one. And I am quite happy it happened like this – simply because I enjoyed this one a lot, and I still do.

The same is true for albums – the songs are recorded in a specific sequence, you usually listen to them in the order they have been placed on the album. For me, this album somehow starts with the second track, not the first one. “Changes”, not “Cheney Lane”. When I was DJing at Eddie’s bar, this album was always in my bag, and during a lot of these evenings, I would play “Changes”. It happened quite a few times that I took it out of the bag, put on the headphones, lowered the needle to listen in and prepare – only to find myself hearing the first seconds of “Cheney Lane”.

Not that this is a mediocre piece of music. “Cheney Lane” max be a little misleading as it leaves you under the impression that this album is relatively close to what Will Holland and his Quantic project were doing on Tru Thoughts at that time, but it’s a pretty good opener nonetheless – a nice slow funky piece with excellent work on bass and organ, warm, soulful and anything but a bad selection for an evening at Eddie’s.

It’s just that “Changes” is the one track on this album that somehow goes much deeper than all of the others – and this needs to be taken into perspective as this is the album with that unbelievable cover version of “Seven Nation Army” – not exactly a track that lacks attitude.

What I always find fascinating about “Changes” is that its infinitely relaxed tempo (not to be confused with slow) and its timeless theme and structure are just utterly disarming. Even fifteen years later I just sit there and enjoy the impact these six minutes have on me. This is the track that most recognizably quotes early sixties Jazz giants, but there is a much lighter attitude here, Lamdin all but avoids to be cool, he sticks to a very tight arrangement, gives clearly defined room for solo work on sax and trumpet, and instead keeps the freedom to the flow of the track. Always loved it, always will.

Things do get a little more complicated over the course of the album. It’s not like Benedic Lamdin was out to assemble an album full of easy pleasers. “Green Blades Of Grass” is taking an approach to Jazz that is a little more intense, “After Ararat” is an almost experimental excursion into Afro-Jazz with a slight touch of Latin, and “The Hunger”‘s horn arrangements give us a bit to chew on. Yet, every one of these three tracks tells us just how much Lamdin’s project had progressed since his first album.

And yes, there’s that one track that outshone every other piece of music Nostalgia 77 have ever produced – that famous cover of “Seven Nation Army”. It’s not like there was a huge campaign going on for this great piece of music, it just slowly but unstoppably rose to the cult status it rightfully has. It’s easy to say that this is all Alice Russell’s voice and delivery that makes this song so unbelievably good – but that’s exactly half the truth. She could never have created this much power and impact if Lamdin hadn’t given her such a perfect musical stage.

Slowing this thing down and exchanging the original’s straightforward drive with this decelerated, bumpy, lagging rhythmic framework is just absolutely perfect for a voice that eats all of those oh so talented soul singer girls’ renditions for breakfast. It’s amazing how Alice Russell is always able to just let it rip all the way and still stay in absolute control of what she is doing. She is literally unbelievable. But again – this works as well as it does because it is paired with the quirky, stripped down funkiness Lamdin gives her to play with.

The rest is anything but a rest. “Freedom” nicely applies the basic structure of “Changes” to a mid tempo Hip Hop beat, “You And Me” is a moody affair with a nice warm Rhodes touch – both tracks add to the quality of the album. Lamdin is smart to close with the title track – “The Garden” feels like we experience it early on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and a look back the last week, last month, last year. A year without Corona, that would be.

We are left behind content, placated, inspired. “The Garden” is anything but a monoculture, it offers a good variety of styles and moods, things are nicely kept, we can see the patterns and feel the creativity and the care that was invested. Everything is kept together by magnificent contributions from Riaan Vosloo on double bass, Russell Knight on percussion and no less than seven gifted folks on horns and winds.

To many, this album is identified as “the album that has that great White Stripes cover on it”. But this doesn’t do justice to “The Garden”. Listen to it. You will agree.

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