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MARIANNE FAITHFULL (Buy CDs by this artist)
Broken English (Island) 1979
Dangerous Acquaintances (Island) 1981
A Childs Adventure (Island) 1983
Strange Weather (Island) 1987
Blazing Away (Island) 1990
MARK ISHAM/MARIANNE FAITHFULL
Trouble in Mind (Island Visual Arts) 1986

Resuming her recording career after a gap of several years, erstwhile '60s pop singer Marianne Faithfull presents a whole new persona on these intensely individual and powerful albums. Armed with a life-roughened voice filled with suffering and rage, and backed by brilliantly original electro-rock, she grapples with mostly political subjects on Broken English and even includes a fascinating interpretation of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero." For Dangerous Acquaintances, Faithfull takes a more resigned outlook, and sings of relationships and the passage of time with strength and depth.

Although the music on it is less exemplary, A Childs Adventure continues her harrowing voyage. Other than the political commentary of "Ireland," the songs concentrate on personal struggles, with only a glimmer of hope ("Ashes in My Hand") emerging from the otherwise bleak appraisal.

Despite co-billing with composer/horn player Mark Isham, Faithfull merely sings two songs on the Trouble in Mind soundtrack album. The cool jazz of the title track for Alan Rudolph's 1986 film offers a foretaste of the direction she took on her next record, Strange Weather. Cast as a sophisticated chanteuse (the echoes of Dietrich and Lotte Lenya are duly noted in Terry Southern's liner notes), Faithfull confronts a far-ranging program (blues, swing, folk, Tin Pan Alley) with delicate accompaniment by Lou Reed's sidemen (Fernando Saunders, Robert Quine and J.T. Lewis) as well as Mac Rebbenack, strings and a horn section. An old spiritual ("Sign of Judgment") connects beautifully with Faithfull's emotional conviction; two tunes from the early '30s — "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and the schmoozy "Penthouse Serenade" — are also rich and wonderful. On the downside, a new version of "As Tears Go By" is mainly academic and her reading of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It with Mine" is simply horrible.

Blazing Away is a career retrospective recorded live at St. Anne's Cathedral in Brooklyn. Producer Hal Willner assembled a dream band anchored by longtime Faithfull collaborator Barry Reynolds on guitar; former Lounge Lizards Dougie Bowne (drums) and Marc Ribot (guitar) mesh powerfully with keyboards played by Garth Hudson and Dr. John. Faithfull's vocal interpretations have never been so intelligent or convincing, and she unveils definitive versions of "Working Class Hero," "Strange Weather" and "Sister Morphine" (and another unnecessary recording of "As Tears Go By"). The set includes five songs from Broken English and only one mediocre new original, a studio rendition of the country-flavored title track. But on searing new versions of "Ballad of Lucy Jordan" and "Why'd Ya Do It?," Faithfull proves she's a singer for the ages, a Billie Holiday figure for a generation too confused for the blues.

[Ira Robbins/Wif Stenger]