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POP MUSIC/ ON THE RECORD

Dave Stewart revisits his songbook

Dave Stewart & His Rock Fabulous Orchestra "The Dave Stewart Songbook: Volume One" Surfdog Records ***

August 10, 2008|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

Dave STEWART is still best known as one-half of Eurythmics, his hit-making collision of fiery soul and icy electronics with singer Annie Lennox. But he's also had an active career these last two decades as a songwriter-producer, collaborating with the likes of Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, No Doubt and Sinead O'Connor. Even Celine Dion recorded one of his songs.

With work scattered amid dozens of albums, he's now rerecorded 21 songs with his Rock Fabulous Orchestra and some gifted vocalists. There is no improving on a collaborator like Lennox, but the collection at its best argues convincingly that these songs can be appreciated beyond the original performances, chart action or not.

"I love the actual spark between two people when they're being creative in a room together and bouncing off each other," Stewart said of the many artists he's worked with. "Writing songs with other people is like falling in love over and over again. You can't just be polite like you would when meeting people over dinner. You've got to go right into it. You end up knowing everything that's going in the life of the person."

The two-disc collection includes several Eurythmics hits, including the 1983 career breakthrough "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," a song that has been performed live or on record by artists ranging from Marilyn Manson to Kanye West. Here the electronic pop tune is reconfigured for a 30-piece orchestra.

Of the original writing session , Stewart says, "Annie was really depressed. We had broken up, and we were up in a tiny room up in a picture-framing factory with an eight-track tape recorder. Everything seemed to be like pushing a snowball up a hill on a hot summer's day."

Then Stewart began playing with a "newfangled computer drum machine," found a stirring electronic beat, and "within minutes the whole thing was happening."

On "Songbook," Stewart sings several of the songs himself, sounding a bit like David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust alter-ego on "Here Comes the Rain Again." His new recording of "Don't Come Around Here No More" misses Petty's rocker sneer, but he fills vocal gaps on Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You?" with a great gospel wail from Amy Keys. The reggae-flavored "Underneath It All" showcases aching vocals from Cindy Gomez and Jamaican rapper Nadirah X.

"I love singing, but I am well aware of my own limitations," Stewart says. "I've co-written with a lot of females, so it would be bloody impossible to sing half of them."

Most surprising may be "Taking Chances," originally written by Stewart and Kara DioGuardi, but recorded as the title song by Celine Dion for her 2007 album. The song remains tuneful and romantic but is also more direct with a flash of genuine emotion from singer Keys.

The Rolling Stones once sang: "It's the singer, not the song." Stewart suggests that sometimes it really is the song. "Songs, once they've been written, remain in people's lives and consciousness forever, depending on how and what they were doing when they heard it," he says. " Songs become little worlds, and those little worlds are a lot more valuable and meaningful than they've been given credit for."

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Dave Stewart & His Rock Fabulous Orchestra play Sept. 5 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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