Nursery Rhymes

KK 088CD KK 088CD

"If people thought it was a bit strange, then they didn't say," says Bill Wells of the stellar cast of collaborators who played and sang on his album Nursery Rhymes. "I made it all clear pretty early on in proceedings and everyone seemed up for it." Well, actually, it is a bit strange, but then think of Wells's trademark combination of spare, melodic compositions with adventurous arrangements for The National Jazz Trio of Scotland -- particularly his adaptions of Christmas songs on their Christmas Album (KK 070LP, 2012) -- and he's a perfect fit for the job. After winning the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year award in 2012 for Everything's Getting Older, which he made with former Arab Strap vocalist Aidan Moffat, Wells secured some funding from Creative Scotland to go make an album in New York City with a musician he had long admired, Karen Mantler, the vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and band-leader -- and daughter of innovative jazz musicians Carla Bley and Mike Mantler. Wells made an initial visit in early 2014 to meet Mantler, find a recording studio, and start recruiting musicians. He was able to fund National Jazz Trio of Scotland vocalist Aby Vulliamy's trip over to sing and play viola on the album, but in the spirit of the commission decided that he would otherwise only record musicians who were in or around New York. Vocalists Syd Straw, Amy Allison, and Isobel Campbell; Yo La Tengo; Satomi Matsuzaki and Greg Saunier from Deerhoof; legendary vocalist and composer Annette Peacock; violinist Charlie Burnham, who has played with Cassandra Wilson and James Blood Ulmer; singer and Tony-winning actor Michael Cerveris; and Amber Papini from the band Hospitality all joined the sessions, as did Bridget St John, the English singer/songwriter and long-time resident of New York. Wells's long-time collaborator Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) produced the album. Nursery Rhymes recasts these funny, violent, coded, centuries-old sentiments as fresh, new creations. Wells is a brilliant arranger and does wonders in finding new ways of looking at the songs, and drawing more out of their strong but spare melodic material. "They should be quite disturbing," he observes. "Because ultimately part of the remit of a nursery rhyme was to give your child some of the harsh realities of life, while sugar-coating them with a catchy little melody. But I'm losing that coating and going straight to the nub of the thing."