CHRIS CORNELL – Songbook (2011)


Last of a dying breed. That’s how many people describes Chris Cornell.
And agree, only the good survive. Cornell and his band Soundgarden (together with Alice In Chains and maybe STP) were the only worthwhile artists – or at least with perdurable talent – from the grunge movement.
Cornell is releasing an album of live “Songbook” tour performances, featuring his own songs as well as a few covers.

Although Cornell is recording a new album with Soundgarden for the first time in 15 years, he continues to work as a solo artist.
It has been said that a truly great song can be stripped down to a basic vocal and instrumental accompaniment, and still be every bit as powerful and affecting as a full band version.
This is the approach Chris Cornell has taken on “Songbook”, collecting recordings taken at different venues from his solo acoustic tours.

The sheer range of material included here reminds you how varied and interesting Cornell’s career has been. You get a couple of Soundgarden tracks, six of his own solo songs, some Audioslave tracks, some Temple of the Dog songs and even a few covers just for good measure.
There is indeed something for everyone in “Songbook”.
Even though the songs are stripped back to their barest of bones, none of the songs particularly suffer from their lack of instrumentation and in fact, some are even enhanced by it.
In particular, the horrible hip hop stylings of “Ground Zero” from his last (and incredibly controversial) solo effort Scream is turned into a kind of great funky work out that allows Chris’s voice to really shine, which, by the way, is stronger than it has sounded in years.
“Call Me A Dog” from the Temple of the Dog album becomes a beautifully delicate track, even more fragile than its original album version.
His take on Led Zepp classic “Thank You” is done with taste and sentiment as well.

Soundgarden’s biggest hit “Black Hole Sun” is transformed into an even more haunting, sinister tune.
All of the Audioslave versions are better than the originals (which I don’t like much) in my opinion. Some, “I am the Highway” and “Wide Awake” in particular, actually eclipse the studio versions by many thousands of miles.
“Cleaning My Gun” is an unreleased song from the Chris Cornell archive, whilst his re-work of John Lennon’s “Imagine” is fantastic, even if it adds nothing to the original.
The collection finishes with a slightly stripped back studio version of “The Keeper”, which Cornell wrote for the film Machine Gun Preacher. The song is easily the best Cornell solo track since 1998’s ‘Euphoria Morning’ album.

“Songbook” is a truly good album, reflecting Chris Cornell’s sensibility as artist, with intimate live performances.
There aren’t many rock vocalists currently working who could achieve what Cornell did on the Songbook tour, without the protection of a band or the safety blanket of playlists and compositions learnt from years of touring the same material, and Cornell makes a mockery of those limitations in others.
Cornell’s voice has always been soaked in soul, as well as carrying an irresistible smokey edge that injected poignancy to even the most bold rock songs he lent it to in his former roles, and it has never sounded as good or as hard-hitting as when teamed up here with a simple guitar as company.
It is proof that a voice can sell a song of any type, provided that voice in convincing and charismatic enough to carry a different agenda within the song than originally composed.
And quite frankly, Cornell’s voice could convince me of most things. In this stripped back format, you really get the sense of how well he understands the mechanics of vocal work, of punctuating sound with other sound, and quite frankly it is a joy to be shown those skills.
I like it.

01 – As Hope And Promise Fade
02 – Scar On The Sky
03 – Call Me A Dog
04 – Ground Zero
05 – Cant Change Me
06 – I Am The Highway
07 – Thank You (Led Zeppelin cover)
08 – Cleaning My Gun
09 – Wide Awake
10 – Fell On Black Days
11 – All Night Thing
12 – Doesn’t Remind Me
13 – Like A Stone
14 – Black Hole Sun
15 – Imagine (John Lennon Cover)
16 – The Keeper (New song 2011) [Machine Gun Preacher OST]


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