Until yesterday, Hailey Tuck was a name that had passed me by. Maybe I’d seen the label ‘soft jazz covers’ and thought that her music wouldn’t be for me. But how wrong I’ve been?
She’s been around for a while, an American still in her 20’s who has spent the best part of a decade living in Paris and reconnecting with a time that was altogether more glamorous. Sporting a beautiful bobbed haircut and giving the impression that she means every syllable that she purposefully utters, it was the video to a track from her forthcoming (and debut) album, Junk, out in May that got me foaming at the mouth.
I’m a fan of The Kinks and firmly believe that Ray Davies is a songwriting genius. It’s fair to say though that his tune, Alcohol, from the Muswell Hillbillies album might never be considered a classic of their catalogue. However, Hailey Tuck has scrubbed the song down, added extra clarity to the slightly muffled vocal of the original and come up with a tune tinged with beautiful sadness. When she sings ‘who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol?’, you believe her every word.
I had to get a copy of the album and promptly requested a preview copy.
‘Why don’t you shut the door and close the curtains?’, asks Jarvis Cocker in Pulp’s fine tune, Underwear. In their version, it’s the sound of a seedy Sheffield, bedsits off Bramall Lane. But Hailey transforms the song and its meaning into a slightly skewed but perfect love song. Her voice is truly to die for.
Underwear falls towards the end of this most astonishing of listening experiences. I’ve never really been one for cover versions or tribute acts but on Junk, Hailey (and her fine band of jazz players) take us through an eclectic mix never once dropping a beat. From soul to folk originals, she turns Solomon Burke into Peggy Lee and Broadway musical-tunes into heart-wrenching ballads that you want to hear again and again.
‘I fought against the bottle but I had to do it drunk’, sings Hailey in the opening track of the record, her cover of the Leonard Cohen song, ‘That don’t make it Junk’. Battles against addiction do surface from time to time, perhaps nowhere more so than in her exquisite cover of Colin Blunstone’s ‘Say You Don’t Mind’. Hailey knows that the word ‘wining/whining’ has double-meaning when she pleads to be forgiven for her wrongdoing in this classic.
Ultimately, this is an exercise in taking old tunes from a range of genres and finding something new, immediate and exciting within. Her art form (soft jazz covers) might be as old as the hills but Tuck breathes and invigorates new life into it.
We’re at the final track of the album – a cover of Paul McCartney’s Junk. ‘Something old and new, memories for me and you’, sings Hailey and you suspect that sums up her modus operandi.
Make no mistake though – this record is far from junk.