It’s fitting that British triller Flo Morrissey and American drawler Matthew E. White met for the first time at a Lee Hazlewood tribute night in 2015 because the pair’s new album Gentlewoman, Ruby Man has a clear “we want to be like Lee & Nancy” air throughout.
If it is an act of copycatting it’s a respectful one. Where Lana Del Rey gets her retro cues by searching through Jackie Kennedy photo archives on Pinterest, one gets the sense the 10 duet covers on Gentlewoman, Ruby Man were selected after exploring a well-curated record collection in someone’s rec room basement.
It’s not a total ’70s revival trip. The pair manage to turn Frank Ocean (“Thinking ‘Bout You”), James Blake (“The Colour In Anything”) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (“Heaven Can Wait”) tracks into effective grayscale mopers.
That said, Morrissey and White’s best work comes from their classic reinterpretations. Their take on Nino Ferrer’s “Looking For You” has even more gravitas when you know the French-Italian singer’s tragic story. It’s exceedingly difficult to mess up Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” and their version’s tinkling keyboard flourish will lock itself between your ears long after you listen to it. Even more addictive is Morrissey and White’s buoyant reimagine of the Grease theme song. Striped of its context as part of a musical and careful calibrated to avoid any American Idol talent show-type airs, “Grease” turns into a groovy, Feist-ian bedroom jammer. Best, though, may be the pair’s take on the George Harrison spiritual “Govindam.” At risk of Beatles blaspheming, this modern redo, complete with its winding, mobius strip rhythmic track, may perhaps be better than the original.