A Long Way Back (Yep Roc)
Taking back an album, in a legal sense (from the former rights owner, usually the label) is often a long, laborious process, and sometimes quite expensive. But you end up with the recordings.
Taking back an album, in a musical sense (from its history, as much as its rights holder who owns the original recordings but not necessarily the songs) by remaking it so you now have recordings that are yours, can be cheaper but carries with it significant risks and big questions.
Can you add anything? What will you lose? Will people who bought it first time around want to revisit and deal with differences? Will people who never had the original, be interested enough?
I’m not sure if there are commercial, practical, or just personal reasons for Kim Richey to revisit the songs from Glimmer, her 1999 third album (though it’s possibly telling that you can’t get that album on streaming services anymore). But what I can tell you is that (a) Glimmer still holds up as a quality collection, maybe a little too glossy in production but hardly lumbered with an out of date sound, and (b) A Long Way Back can hold its own as a new entity.
And it is new, with Richey taking a more than passing go at remaking the record, beginning with re-arranging the running order, and with it the messaging a listener picks up.
The original opened with the pop/rock bounce of Can’t Lose Them All, with its determination to wait out the bad luck that was a poor run of love affairs, and the muted glow of the similarly hope-over-reality Other Side Of Town, which worked a similar tone and sound to ‘90s Aimee Mann and enjoyed how “life there suits you just fine/Outta sight, you’re out of mind/You’re on the other side of town”. It was an adult mood but not a burdened one.
Today Richey begins with Come Around, where not only does the tempo and vocal tone suggest something less buoyant, but the opening lines speak as much to new recordings as past loves: “I don’t miss the good old days/I’ve learned a lot since then/I’ve changed my ways.”
It’s followed by Long Way Back which, while having essentially the same tempo as it did in 1999, feels a little more measured in its tread, is definitely more sombre in its instrumentation, with a beautiful flugelhorn contribution from Dan Mitchell bringing a definite ache, and reinforces the notion from Come Around that wisdom has been earned: “The forgiveness you ask could heal your soul/But it’s a long way back.”
The lyrics haven’t changed and intent is probably the same within each song, but placement and setting have changed their impact, and in turn how the album is now set up. Basically, Richey, the characters, and we, are 20-odd years older, a dozen times more bruised.
(Almost as an aside, the switching of final tracks – Gravity originally; Didn’t I now – keeps the sense of closing the journey with a sigh of peace, but moves from resistance won’t change this bitter ending, “You can try and fight it/But you wouldn’t stand a chance”, to saying “maybe time’s the only way to find some way back from this”. Time and a chance to rewrite the past.)
More than placement though, more than the deepened voice of 2020 Richey, the principal difference between Glimmer and A Long Way Back is how this time around, Richey and producer Doug Lancio (who played most of the instruments) have pulled back the sound from a full band in sharp delineation to not exactly bare bones – they’re more imaginative than that – but certainly a more muted spectrum where imagination plays a strong role. Theirs and ours.
Mitchell’s flugelhorn makes another appearance in the tamp-downed blues of Good At Secrets, putting a graceful note over the guitar’s bent notes, just as the backing vocals (all Richey) make a gentle reply to the lead voice. Lancio’s 12-string guitars in Other Side Of Town are little splashes, the bass in So It Goes works almost like a hum beneath the song, and Strength In You, which is the fullest band sound here, relies on acoustic guitars and cooing backing vocals than punch (and sounds quite a lot like 2000s Aimee Mann).
Given Richey’s ability to wrap stories around subtly clever wordplay feels as effective now as it did in 1999 – and for that matter as it did two years ago with her very good album Edgeland - the bones of Glimmer were always going to hold up.
But it was no certainty that putting those bones in new clothes would bring anything that changed how we looked at them. A Long Way Back does that.