Review: Rumer sets new standards with Hugh Prestwood catalogue

Rumer, "Nashville Tears" (Cooking Vinyl)

The combination of Rumer’s crystalline voice and Hugh Prestwood’s songs results in some breathtaking, deeply moving music on "Nashville Tears," the Pakistan-born, British singer’s interpretation of the Texas-born, New York-based songwriter’s catalogue.

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Prestwood tunes like "Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart" and "The Song Remembers When" have been hits (and others deserved to be) for a long list of stars, from Trisha Yearwood, Crystal Gayle and Randy Travis to Michael Johnson, Judy Collins and even Jimmy Buffett. Prestwood was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

Rumer’s skills as an interpreter have a strong track record and her previous album was dedicated to Burt Bacharach and Hal David tunes like "Walk on By" and "The Look of Love."

Her discovery of Prestwood material started when album producer Fred Mollin sent her "Oklahoma Stray," such an achingly sad song about a cat that it’s guaranteed to even break dog people’s hearts.

Further explorations of the Prestwood songbook led to the accumulation of treasures and the 15 on "Nashville Tears" make up a fabulous selection of songs with, usually, adult perspectives and hard-earned lessons.

From the long-faded memories a tune can awaken on "The Song Remembers When" to choosing one’s final earthly resting place on "Bristlecone Pine," Prestwood’s excellence is matched by Rumer’s, whose voice wraps around the melodies like a pashmina shawl, drawing out the songs’ sweet or painful emotions with equal skill.

Despite the album’s Nashville recording location and Prestwood’s country music pedigree, Rumer’s versions are more country-infused than downright country, which could bring the songs to wider audiences and weaken some prejudices.

It would be a shame to miss out on a songwriter as great as Prestwood just because his work is usually found in a genre some people avoid.

In any case, should Rumer interpret the phone book for you, extend the pleasure by asking her to sing the letters and digits in the names and numbers one by one. And make sure the listings are for New York or Los Angeles, not Monowi, Nebraska, which has a population of one.

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