Aug 2nd, 2019
After more than 8 albums over almost 20 years, Aussie band The Bamboos are justifiably regarded internationally as one of the most progressive forces in soul music today. Not one to rest on his laurels, for band leader / guitarist / songwriter / producer Lance Ferguson, evolution is crucial. So after the success of 2018’s “Night Time People”, he knew the next album had to be something totally different.
Coming up on the 20th anniversary as a band makes it quite natural to take a look back, but rather than simply putting together some kind of “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits” release, The Bamboos have chosen a different route, taking a selection of their most loved songs and breathing new life into them with a special orchestral re-imagining. The result is “By Special Arrangement”, an album that reinvents cuts from The Bamboos catalog within the setting of lush, sweeping strings, woodwind and brass.
Ferguson only ever had one arranger in mind to realize this concept. Ross Irwin has been steadily building an enviable reputation as a go-to arranger within the Aussie music scene and has also been The Bamboos’ long term trumpeter and arranger. Irwin’s arrangements simultaneously tap into not just the cinematic but also the grand tradition of legendary soul arrangers such as Isaac Hayes and Charles Stepney, as well as classic widescreen soul albums from the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. On “By Special Arrangement” there is no doubt Irwin has truly captured the emotional intent and character at the inner core of the songs and framed them into something new and jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Featuring Dan Sultan, Tim Rogers, Megan Washington and long-serving Bamboos vocalist (and undeniably one of Australia’s greatest soul singers) Kylie Auldist, this full-length coaxes both the epic and intimate from well-known gems taken from the band’s 8 studio albums. Fittingly, the album’s cover image is shreds of their previous album covers brought together to create a new object.
Megan Washington has created magic with Ferguson numerous times, and here she revisits “Eliza”, with the new setting emphasizing its tenderness, reaching out to a close friend going off the rails. While “I Got Burned” was the fruit of a partnership between The Bamboos and Tim Rogers and in this version Ferguson‘s guitar swaggers through voodoo drums while the strings swirl, tease and scorch the song around its edges, adding to the sexual tension that made the original an Australian classic.
But it’s Kylie Auldist who yet again steals the show across her 7 tracks, showing her vocal prowess in much more intimate settings. Alongside new versions of beloved Bamboos songs such as “I Don’t Wanna Stop”, “Keep Me In Mind” and “Lit Up” she also sings the two cover versions on the album. “Stop” was a hit in 1988 for UK blue-eyed soul singer Sam Brown, and Auldist is a natural in distilling the song’s melodrama. And in what could well be the highlight of the album, she utterly owns a stunning version of London Grammar’s “Strong”, magnifying the solitude and redemption inherent in the original, but delivered in her trademark style.
Encapsulating 20 years of music into a new and fresh product is no easy task. But “By Special Arrangement” rises to that challenge, enticing new qualities out of classic Bamboos cuts, and proving that The Bamboos will be utterly vital and relevant for many more years to come.