I can’t think of a vocalist better equipped to tackle the literary art-folk tunes of Kate Bush than Theo Bleckmann, a German singer who is no stranger to the sophisticated paradox of “subtle melodrama.” Bleckmann, a member of the artistically wrinkled downtown music scene in New York, isn’t afraid to embrace either the theatrics of cabaret or the refined elegance of songs by Charles Ives. Like Bush, he knows how to meld the ornamental and the essential in a manner that enriches both the package and the substance. Because they are kindred spirits, the 14 Bush songs covered by Bleckmann on Hello Earth! are faithful to the originals without being overly derivative.
The songs are taken from five Bush albums, ranging from her 1978 debut, The Kick Inside, to The Sensual World in 1989. A half-dozen are from her best-known disc, Hounds of Love, although Bleckmann provides a good mix of “hits” and relative obscurities throughout. His voice is lower and more dulcet than Bush’s piercing soprano, and the instrumental arrangements are generally more plush and jazz-oriented, with help from downtown folks like drummer John Hollenbeck, Caleb Burhana on strings, Henry Hay on keys and Skull Sverrisson on bass.
Bleckmann wisely doesn’t try to top, or equal the scale of, Bush’s magisterial “Hello Earth!,” but turns “Saxophone Song” into agile scat and jazz, and is more wickedly satirical, with whistling and march-time rhythms, on “Army Dreamers.” The way Bleckmann drags out “And Dream of Sheep” and “Under Ice,” is simply beautiful, but he’s less successful on the twitchy rockers like “Violin” and “Suspended in Gaffa.” Then there are songs like “The Man With The Child In His Eyes,” one of Bush’s first songs. Bleckmann’s take is pretty faithful, and yet his gender and his vocal inflections (he and Bush both have superb intonation) create a very different rendition.