Pop Albums: Orquestra Was Forever's a Long, Long Time Verve 314 533-915

`Was's lyrics make a seamless transition from their white rural origins to the black urban environs of the musicians, suggesting emotional truth knows no colour bar'
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This latest project from the ubiquitous Don Was oozes sophistication, despite its proletarian origins in the songs of Hank Williams and the music of Was's hometown, Detroit. In what at first seems like an excess of eclecticism, he's set the lyrics to Williams' songs such as "Lost on the River" and "I Ain't Got Nothin' But Time" to new music written by himself and rendered in soul-jazz arrangements by the likes of Herbie Hancock, David McMurray, Terence Blanchard and Harvey Mason - much the same team that worked on Was's excellent Backbeat jazz score. With Sweet Pea Atkinson fronting most of the songs, it's actually not that far from a Was (Not Was) album, though it does lack the trickster element provided by the departed David Was.

What's most immediately impressive about the album is the seamless transition the lyrics have made from their white rural origins to these black urban environs, suggesting that emotional truth knows no colour bar. Here, "I Ain't Got Nothin' But Time" and "Forever's a Long, Long Time" are gently shuffling slices of jazz-funk arranged in the brooding shadows of Miles and Ming's, with Herbie Hancock offering quizzical piano chords and tenor saxophonist David McMurray supplying solos of immense conviction. The lengthy "Lost on the River", by contrast, has something of the implacable destiny suggested by the title, with Was's acoustic bass gripping firmly at the rudder, while violin and pedal steel guitar tones shimmer tantalisingly on its meniscus.

Alongside the Hank Williams material that provides the core of the work, Was has added a few instrumental pieces of his own. Former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer daubs bold Hendrix strokes over a tight funk matrix on "Excuse Me, Colonel, Could I Borrow Your Newspaper?"; and "You've Been Having a Rough Night, Huh?" ploughs a majestic, rolling camel-gait groove, sounding rather like Sun Ra in one of his more Afrocentric moods. Finally, "A Big Poem About Hell" brings events to a climax with a nightmarish synth- and sample-scape, before Merle Haggard bestows an appropriately oceanic weariness on "I'm So Tired of It All", restoring Williams' song to its natural country home.

It's an absorbing journey, and one which, avoiding as it does the mainstreams of jazz, country, rock 'n' soul, could easily slip between the cracks of generic taste. But ultimately, it's only through exercises like this that those genres are broadened and enriched, and at present, all four could do with a little of that.