Thursday, 11 October 2018

Willy De Ville





Miracle (1987)


(Due To) Gun Control/Could You Would You/Heart And Soul/Assassin Of Love/Spanish Jack/Miracle/Angel Eyes/Nightfalls/Southern Politician/Storybook Love          
Miracle was Willy “Mink” De Ville’s first solo album away from the Mink De Ville band, which released its last album in 1985. This was released in 1987 and was produced by Dire Straits’ guitarist/singer Mark Knopfler, who also contributed instrumentally. The album was one of the first completely digital “DDD” CDs and you can tell, the sound is crystal clear and virtually perfect.

It is a pretty impressive, underrated album too. The hard-hitting, gritty rock of (Due To) Gun Control starts things off on a powerful note before we get a rhythmic, soulful cover of Them’s Could You Would You and you remember just what a great, yearning voice Willy De Ville had. A notion that is reiterated on the next track - the simply beautiful Heart And Soul where Willy treads familiar Latin lover territory - “and the choir sings Ave Maria…”. Romantic old Willy at his best.

Assassin Of Love is a very Knopfler-influenced track - laid-back and evocative with some typically vibrant guitar parts.  Spanish Jack continues in the same mode, but is more menacing and atmospheric. I love the line “like a pimp on Easter morning…”

Miracle is another entrancing, mid-paced and beautiful number with Willy’s voice on top heartbreaking form over Knopfler’s understated but melodic guitar backing. Angel Eyes has Willy back with a rose for his backstreet seƱorita - upbeat, Latin and an affecting doo-wop a cappella style vocal backing. Just uplifting and enjoyable.

  

Nightfalls is a return to the low-key romance of Miracle, while the pulsating Southern Politician is a delight - an extended piece of swamp blues condemnation of a corrupt racist Southern States governor. A wonderful, atmospheric, captivating track.

Storybook Love is just sumptuous. Beautiful and effortlessly moving.  De Ville’s voice again taking centre stage over a sparse but totally infectious backing. Thus ends a great first solo album. Many more would follow from a much-missed artist.

De Ville speaks about the album thus, rather touchingly:-


"...It was Mark (Knopfler’s) wife Lourdes who came up with the idea (to record Miracle). She said to him that you don't sing like Willy and he doesn't play guitar like you, but you really like his stuff so why don't you do an album together? So I went over to London to do this album. It wasn't easy because we didn't want it to sound like a Dire Straits album, and his guitar playing is so unique that it was hard to do. But nothing good is going to be easy. I know that I spent the whole time really trying to impress Mark, I wanted it to be good..."

It was good, Willy.



Victory Mixture (1990)


Hello My Lover/It Do Me Good/Key To My Heart/Beating Like A Tom-Tom/Every Dog Has Its Day/Big Blue Diamonds/Teasin' You/Ruler Of My Heart/Who Shot The La-La/Junkers Blues  
            
After the success of the impressive Miracle, from 1987, Willy De Ville returned in 1990 for his second solo album. In this he covered songs from his beloved New Orleans R'n'B artists. It was something of a labour of love. Apparently the material was recorded with minimal modern technology, thus giving them an authenticity. Modern studios, have, however, meant that the sound is full and punchy. It also helped that among the musicians playing on the album is Dr. JohnEddie BoAllen Toussaint and various members of 70s/80s funk band The Meters. The backing is of the highest quality throughout.

The opener, Hello My Lover has horns, rocking piano and De Ville's instantly recognisable voice making us feel we are in good hands for this journey to the hot, steamy crescent city. It Do Me Good is a bass-heavy, full-on blues rocker, while Key To My Heart has a fifties rock'n'roll doo-wop ballad feel to it, with De Ville's voice in full "yesterday, today, tomorrow" mode (as Doc Pomus once said of it). Very few singers could handle a slow number as wonderfully as De Ville with those yearning, nasal tones. My goodness, I miss him. The organ swirls in at the end and Willy takes us to heaven. Beating Like A Tom Tom sees his voice on great fifties soul form again and the backing is full, rich but pleasantly sparse too, if you get my drift. It sounds like a late fifties song recorded under slightly better conditions. This is New Orleans blues influenced rock'n'roll of the highest order.



Every Dog Has Its Day is a lively, rhythmic groove with an early Motown-influenced horn section and a stunning saxophone solo over a syncopated, heady Money-style drumbeat. I had overlooked this album in favour of most of Willy's other material. God knows why. It's fantastic. Big Blue Diamonds is proper New Orleans-influenced blues, with that insistent slow rock'n'roll piano underpinning everything.

Teasin' You is a slice of Cajun-style, upbeat fun with a few hints of The TemptationsThe Way You Do The Things You DoRuler Of My Heart is a jazzy, sparsely-backed soulful number with De Ville once again on top vocal form. Who Shot The La-La would not have sounded out of place on Southside Johnny's first album, in that whisky-soaked grizzly blues voice way. Junkers Blues is a bona fide, chugging blues closer with De Ville sounding eighty years old and black.

This really is an unjustly overlooked pearl of an album. As Steely Dan said of a girl from New Orleans - a "pearl of the quarter".


Backstreets Of Desire (1992)


Empty Heart/All In The Name Of Love/Lonely Hunter/Even When I Sleep/Voodoo Charm/Come To Poppa/Chemical Warfare/Hey Joe/I Call Your Name/I Can Give You Everything/Jump City/Bamboo Road/All In The Name Of Love             

This is possibly Willy De Ville's finest solo album, one in which he merges that archetypal Latin-tinged West Side Story meets the Drifters street-soul sound that so characterised his days with Mink De Ville with his love his New Orleans blues and jazz-influenced rock. There other influences in there too - Mexican mariachi, Cuban salsa, Deep South swamp rock, Cajun music, New Wave and fifties doo-wop. For a long-time fan of De Ville since first hearing him in 1977, this is manna from De Ville Heaven (which is a place full of addictive Latin rhythms, bluesy rock riffs and that hard-as-nails but simultaneously tender voice).
        
The album starts well, with the typical soulful backstreet heartbreaker of Empty Heart and then we get a true De Ville classic in the uplifting majesty of All In The Name Of Love. Willy's voice is just superb on this. A melodic fiddle riff is all over the sumptuous Lonely Hunter. Lyrically, good old Willy never changed - his songs are full of lonely hunters, backstreet heroes and openly-expressed desires, hearts on sleeves, girls with angel eyes and the feel of a barrio street on a hot, sultry Saturday evening. Willy always liked a bit of Cajun influence and next up is Even When I Sleep, a pulsating rocker with an intoxicating Cajun accordion driving the song along. Willy's distinctive, nasal twang rides high over this pounding, good-time rhythm, but it never loses its soul. Willy never lost his soul.

 

Willy leaves his romantic side behind him for the next batch of songs as he goes off the main drag to the darker streets for a while. Voodoo Charm is a mysterious, swampy number of the kind De Ville does so well, taking us to the darkest corners of greater New Orleans. The grinding Come To Poppa continues the bluesy groove. Chemical Warfare is a unique De Ville track - a rhythmic, politically-motivated beguiling number. Now, it must be time for a bit of Latin party again, and this arrives with the Mexican-influenced and winning cover of Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe, played as if sung by a Mariachi band in Guadalajara. It works superbly well. I love it. "Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand....." suits de Ville so well. Check out that trumpet solo in the middle. Superb.

The old street romance is back with the Latin acoustic guitar and sweeping strings of I Call Your Name.  I Can Only Give You Everything is a muscular, riffy rocker. Jump City is a lively, rhythmic New Orleans-style number and Bamboo Road is an evocative, atmospheric Cajun-soul song about cane sugar workers toiling in the heat. This excellent album ends with a New Orleans-funeral style Salvation Army version of All In The Name Of Love. When I heard of his passing in August 2009, this was the first song of his I played. Obviously I never knew Willy De Ville, but with regard to his music, I miss him dearly.


Loup Garou (1995)


No Such Pain As Love/Runnin' Through The Jungle - Shootin' The Blues/When You're Away From Me/Angels Don't Lie/Still - I Love You Still/White Trash Girl/You'll Never Know/The Ballad Of The Hoodlum Priest/Heart Of A Fool/Asi Te Amo/Loup Garou/Time Has Come Today/My One Desire (Vampyr's Lullaby) 

Willy De Ville's albums with his band Mink De Ville were very much New York City albums. For his solo albums, De Ville went down South - to New Orleans and to the Cajun areas of Louisiana. While 1992's Backstreets Of Desire explored the music of that area somewhat, this album does it even more. It is by far his most Louisiana album thus far. It is a good one too.
        
No Such Pain As Love is a lovely opener, with a delicious bass line and a sort of Cajun rock meets The Eagles melody to it, with a bit of Byrds guitar. Willy's voice is right on the money as usual. The Cajun rhythm is continued on the upbeat, swampy rock of Runnin' Through The Jungle - Shootin' The Blues. It has a great guitar solo in it too. When You're Away From Me is a gorgeous, slow pace soulful groove with one of Willy's timeless nasal, but yearningly romantic vocals. Angels Don't Lie has Willy at his most romantic. The song has a winningly soulful vocal, delivered over a gentle acoustic backing with haunting Celtic airs and Uilleann pipes.

Still - I Love You Still is beautifully catchy in a typical De Ville Latin style, full of castanets, Mexican guitars and some killer lead guitar riffs too. Of course, his beguiling voice is superb on this too, as it always is. I can never get enough of it. The track ends with some Mexican mariachi horns. Now, Willy could always cook up a veritable gumbo of swamp blues and he does so here on the bluesy, rocking White Trash Girl. Willy is joined by fifties singer Brenda Lee on You'll Never Know, she sounds like Ronnie Spector and the duet is most fetching.

 

The Ballad Of The Hoodlum Priest is a very typical piece of De Ville urban rock, with street character lyrics, a pounding beat and catchy chorus. Great stuff. Heart Of A Fool is also in that riffy De Ville style that I love so much. I fell in love with this guy's music in 1978 and that still burns in me today. I miss him a lot.

Asi Te Amo is a delightful Spanish version of Still - I Love You Still. The album's spooky Cajun/Creole voodoo highlight is the atmospheric Loup GarouTime Has Come Today is a solid slice of De Ville bluesy rock in the Cadillac Walk mould. It is actually a Chambers Brothers cover from the sixties, however. Cadillac Walk was also a cover, of course. De Ville makes these tracks his own. The final track, My One Desire (Vampyr's Lullaby) is a unique number, sombrely brooding and totally different to anything else on the album.

Overall, this a most enjoyable album and well worth checking out. If you like Mink/Willy De Ville's work then I guess you have it already.


Crow Jane Alley (2004)


Chieva/Right There, Right Then/Downside Of Town/My Forever Came Today/Crow Jane Alley/Muddy Waters Rose Out Of The Mississippi Mud/Come A Little Bit Closer/Slave To Love/(Don't Have A) Change Of Heart/Trouble Comin' Every Day In A World Gone Wrong        
  
This was Willy De Ville's first studio album for a while, and it is a comparatively unsung one. It is a reasonable album, although I have to say I prefer Backstreets Of Desire and Loup Garou from the previous decade. It is not a huge matter but the sound quality is slightly better on those two and the same applies to the songs, just a bit. There is something about those two albums, for me, that this one doesn't quite have. The cover is a strange one, showing De Ville in native Mexican/Central American(?) get-up.

Chieva kicks off with some New Orleans brass and Spanish guitar before a shuffling, jazzy beat comes in. De Ville's voice is older now and, although still bearing that trademark nasal tone, is a bit croakier and gruffer. The lyrics deal with De Ville's heroin addiction which would ultimately, I'm sure, play a part in his premature passing. Right There, Right Then has a Byrds/Searchers-inspired guitar riff and a typical De Ville yearning vocal. This is the sort of track you just expect from Willy. Here could do this sort of thing in his sleep. I can never get too much of these type of songs. Downside Of Town is backed by castanets, accordion and Spanish guitar and has a heartfelt vocal. More classic De Ville fare.



My Forever Came Today is a slow burning, accordion-backed track in the same style of the two before it. Crow Jane Alley, however, is a shuffling, bluesy slow, New Orleans-influenced number, full of atmosphere. Muddy Waters Rose Out Of The Mississippi Mud is one of those deep, swampy blues that De Ville does so well. Come A Little Bit Closer is a cover of a sixties hit for a group called Jay & The Americans (I was not familiar with them or the song). However, it sounds just like it could be a De Ville original, with its Latin syncopation, La Bamba hints and mariachi backing. It is a great choice for a cover. Another inspired choice for a cover is up next - Bryan Ferry's Slave To Love. Ferry's delivery and songs are so unique to him so you would imagine this may not work, but it does, suiting De Ville's voice perfectly.

The album concludes in full New Orleans funeral mode for (Don't Have A) Change Of Heart and the bluesy slow stomp of Trouble Comin' Every Day In A World Gone Wrong. Willy rails against modern life over a retrospective classic swamp blues rock beat. Don't get me wrong, there are hidden gems on this album. I still prefer the others I mentioned, but this is worth a listen too.






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