Bryan Adams is not a man to make an album of covers just for the hell of it...
In fact, his sleevenotes tell us that he thought long and hard about the concept – spawned by a proposal from the project’s producer, Canada’s musical polymath David Foster – of re-recording US Top 10 hits from his formative years. You’ve got to respect Adams for that. His contemporaries have been falling over themselves to treat such albums as handy stopgaps, but not our Bryan. Once he committed, it took three months of recording sessions spread over two years. Relax, Bryan, it’s only a bloody album… besides, it’s kind of wacky to have A Great American Songbook sung by a Canadian.
At least he never takes himself too seriously.
That‘s apparent from the get-go. As the CD artwork shows, he’s got a great sense of humour. The front cover is brilliant – a black-and-white portrait of a 16-year-old Bryan looking like “someone that just crawled out of the Deep Purple road crew tour bus” taken at school by his mate Ray. Inside the booklet, recording personnel details are presented beneath what appear to be photos of the original seven-inch singles – but are actually all variously-styled pastiches of his own version on the imaginary Bad Records label. Clever…
Adams certainly knows a good song when he hears one…
The album contains his take on 10 classics (there are more on the deluxe version) plus one new original co-written with Jim Vallance, She Knows Me. For the older tunes, rather than re-record slices of the ’70s hard rock that inspired him to pick up a guitar, grow his hair and lose track of his ears, he’s been steered into more radio-friendly rockers such as Chuck Berry‘s Rock And Roll Music (timeless, clearly, as it was released two years before Adams was born), The Beatles’ Any Time At All, Lay Lady Lay by Dylan and Creedence’s Down On The Corner. He does them all well, but gentler than you might expect so they sit easily alongside softer more soulful tunes such as Smokey Robinson’s The Tracks Of My Tears or Bobby Hebb‘s Sunny.
**His voice hasn’t declined one iota over the years. **
The fact that at no point on this album does he resort to stadium-pleasing full-on rocking means there is never a wall of guitars to hide behind. The sparse arrangements therefore have the dual effect of letting the song shine and his voice sparkle.
**He can still get a bit soppy at times. **
He couldn’t resist tackling Never My Love (much covered, but a hit first for the Association in 1967); and his version of Don Gibson’s country standard I Can’t Stop Loving You could be a wedding waltz favourite for years to come. But he does them so well – then trumps both by re-working the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows as a tear-jerking piano ballad. It closes the album beautifully and reminds us all that while fashion is temporary, class is permanent.