Albums of the week: Just A Song Before I Go by Luke Sital-Singh

Englishman Luke Sital-Singh's newest EP, Just A Song Before I Go, collates favourite songs from American legends.
Englishman Luke Sital-Singh's newest EP, Just A Song Before I Go, collates favourite songs from American legends.PHOTO: RAYGUN RECORDS

In an interview with The Guardian last month, Luca Guadagnino, director of the garlanded coming-of-age drama, Call Me By Your Name, was unperturbed by how some movie buffs are not pleased that he had remade Suspira, the 1977 horror classic by fellow Italian director Dario Argento.

Citing endless remakes of Shakespearean plays on stage and on film, he asserted: "Human art is not about inventing originality, it's about finding a new point of view."

His answer stays in the mind while one listens to Just A Song Before I Go, the newest EP by Englishman Luke Sital-Singh collating favourite songs from American legends.

Named on the longlist for BBC's prestigious Sound of 2014 poll alongside artists such as Sam Smith, Sampha and FKA twigs, he isn't a household name yet unlike the rest.

The flip side? His relative obscurity means zero expectations. How does one find a new point of view when it comes to covers? A radical makeover or a faithful tribute?

For Sital-Singh, the answer lies closer to the second, zeroing in on the heart of the songs.

The EP is an ode to the United States, with songs recorded "during his recent US tour and inspired by long drives across the country". A romantic idea all right, but one whose mythical allure has grown even stronger, untethered from the fire and fury of much of today's fake news.

  • INDIE FOLK

    JUST A SONG BEFORE I GO

    Luke Sital-Singh

    Raygun Records

    4 stars

A sirocco of languor hangs over the proceedings. This unharried pace is epitomised in his version of the title track, a humdinger from CSN, the 1977 album by Crosby, Stills & Nash. The familiar electric guitar riff is still there. Swaying beat shores up sentiments of being shanghaied, of coming home.

"Just a song before I go/To whom it may concern/Travelling twice the speed of sound/It's easy to get burnt," he sings softly, more lonesome than the combined harmonies of the original trio. It strikes at the core of his craft of being an itinerant musician.

His take on Thirteen - the 1972 ballad by rock band Big Star and what Rolling Stone magazine calls "one of rock's most beautiful celebrations of adolescence" - is star-struck. Yes, Sital-Singh's voice is more mopey than Alex Chilton's arch voice. The naivete, the blush of first love (in this case, with a schoolmate, and with rock 'n' roll, referencing The Rolling Stones' 1966 Paint It Black) are captured beautifully.

Equally bewitching is Harvest Moon, his cover of Canadian icon Neil Young's 1992 dedication to his wife Pegi. While Young unwinds with a pedal steel guitar and a female vocal accompaniment, Sital-Singh keeps things private. The result is less communal, more a midnight trance. Gentle ivories buoy his fluttery vocal. "But now it's getting late/And the moon is climbing high," he sings to no one and everyone.

The stripped-down approach is applied to his update of Jackson Browne's 1974 break-up dirge Late For The Sky. Whereas you can trace angst in the original's whingeing guitar riffs and backup vocals, in the latest version you rely mostly on Sital-Singh's unvarnished croon as piano and electric guitar shadow him.

"How long have I been sleeping/How long have I been drifting alone through the night," he confesses, a voice of solitary determination, for better or worse.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Faithful tribute to American classics'. Print Edition | Subscribe