In hot anticipation of his Roxy Music’s 50th anniversary tour and his own book of longings and lyrics, lounge-lizard crooner Bryan Ferry does the thing that he does second best and interprets a handful of classic pop songs across the decades without concern for genre or an era’s agenda. Together with his usual solo music-making crew (including guitarists Chris Spedding and Waddy Wachtel and background vocalist Fonzi Thornton), Ferry and his band create a spidery web of intrigue and ambience.
In their hand, the once-country sap of Ketty Lester’s “Love Letters” becomes an ominous warning, the love letter from the heart/bullet from a gun that Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth warned of in Blue Velvet. Ferry’s slippery baritone moan lifts Burt Bacharach’s cosmopolitan mourner “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” into something poetic and creepy, while turning Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”—truly one of my weird faves—into something far less sappy, and into a pained lover’s Shakespearian soliloquy.
The best of Lover Letters, though, can be found in the noir-jazzy and wonderfully winsome “The Very Thought of You.” Written by Ray Noble as a soft, post-WW2 lament, Ferry romantically—but ruinously, too, because his lilting croon displays the tragic and the sensuous in every bite—appropriates Noble’s longing chords (as did Billie Holiday in her prime) and brings them to a tortured lover’s conclusion. After all, not every Love Letter is a cheerful one.