CASSANDRA WILSON Blue Light ‘Til Dawn (Pure Pleasure)

Originally released in 1993, Cassandra Wilson’s Blue Note debut is an album that tries, it really dos. An eclectic selection of material, some of it self-penned, alongside Robert Johnson, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Ann Peebles covers, inventively arranged and finely played and sung, I feel I should be enjoying it a whole lot more than I do. 

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” opens proceedings promisingly, scored for acoustic guitar and keening violin and sung with some velvet foreboding. “Come On In My Kitchen” is a little off-kilter, sounding like Bob Dylan’s “Together Through Life” band attempting to play reggae. “Children Of The Night”, a Thom Bell and Linda Creed composition, seems possessed, Vinx’s jabbering vocal contributions suggesting some kind of voodoo ritual. Adding a sleazy-sounding cornet prevents a vocal-and-steel-guitar treatment of “Hellhound On My Trail” from becoming too conventional, and Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow”, from “Hejira”, is recast as a frenzied African percussion piece, which becomes somewhat less revolutionary when recalling that the same African percussion sound was all over Ms Mitchell’s next album, “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”. Similarly, the percussion/vocal “Estrella” tips its hat in the direction of Joni’s “The Tenth World”. I can’t not warm to the spare change-jingling, slow motion deconstruction of Van’s “Tupelo Honey”, featuring more of that seagull-screeching violin. (The sleeve credits Jimi Hendrix for some lyrics purloined from his song “Angel”, but they’re so seamlessly interwoven into the performance it took me 14 plays to find them.) The bluesy title track, Wilson’s own, is so accomplished you might wish for more of her songwriting in place of some of the covers. “I Can’t Stand The Rain” closes the album, Wilson accompanied only by the late Chris Whitley on national resonator guitar; it’s arresting, but perhaps a bit too free-form, seemingly losing itself in winding, alien territory away from the choruses. 

There’s much that is good on “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn” musically, yet for me it really doesn’t gel into a great album. Its diversity counts against it, perhaps, making it sound more like a various artists compilation rather than a cohesive statement from a single source. All that borrowing and rearrangement gives it the aura of a clever, impressive calling card, but equally makes it more restless than relaxing.  

Pure Pleasure have somewhat bungled the album’s vinyl debut too, disappointingly for a company that rightly declares “The vinyl record: the most beautiful music format in the world”. Whilst at its heart “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn” is, or at least could be, a great sounding record, as evinced by the effusive praise its attracted on the more analogue-friendly corners of the internet, my copy is plagued by scratches and sibilance, more ticks and pops than tickety boo. The packaging, too, seems crude and clumsy, the not-quite-Blue Note labels and gigantic font used for the credits in the gatefold somewhat out of alignment with the product’s aspirations to quality and distinction.