News that rock legend Chrissie Hynde had a jazz recording in the works seemed equal parts cringeworthy and intriguing. The track record of rock stars enhancing their own considerable nostalgia by mining the classic American songbook has yielded some treacly results. On the other hand, Hynde belongs to a group of veteran iconoclasts like Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, and Joe Jackson, who could bring a distinctive sound to the project and call it something of an aesthetic expansion.
Valve Bone Woe—the title taken from her brother’s poetic response to news of Bob Brookmeyer’s death in 2011—works best as a sonic portrait of a dilapidated Hollywood mansion that still evokes some of its postwar glory but with abundant scruffy edges showing. Hynde’s husky alto tackles classics like Sinatra’s “I’m a Fool to Want You” and Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)” without evoking the ballroom glamour (think leather motorcycle jacket instead of gown). But she also brings her own sensibility to the repertoire, covering Nick Drake’s “River Man,” Brian Wilson’s “Caroline, No,” and “No Return” by ex-significant other Ray Davies. She mostly lays out on Mingus’ “Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters” and Coltrane’s “Naima,” but they reinforce the coolness. Unfortunately, the lush orchestration often weighs matters down rather than uplifting them.
The ambivalence that runs through the lyrics of many of the songs here is also well-suited to the attitude toward genre. Hynde calls it her “jazz dub” recording, which is accurate enough, but it doesn’t quite feel like a Hynde recording, though it does offer a through line to her take on “I Wish You Love” from the movie Eye of the Beholder. There’s a possible link to, say, “Brass in Pocket” too, but that would require the daring of a spare setting with a couple of trusty sidekicks.
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