Marianne Faithfull with Warren Ellis
She Walks in Beauty
Like Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois, Marianne Faithfull has been codependent on the kindness of strangers and familiars. From Jagger/Richards and Heathcote Williams to Tom Waits and Hal Willner, Faithfull has happily taken their heed, their lead, and pushed each of these songwriters and producers to aid her craggy baritone and the breathiness of a life well lived (and nearly dead several times, including a hard bout with COVID) to new emotional highs.
With a treacherously textured voice that bears its scars and holds its charms, Faithfull finds sympathetic, poetic tones and empathetic lilting melodies—ambient and softly swirling like a desert’s hot breeze—in the guise of producer/violinist Warren Ellis (of Bad Seeds fame) and background music makers such as Brian Eno and Nick Cave. The words, however? Those come from Faithfull’s most beloved poems and poets, from the decadently elegant (Byron, Shelley) to the serene and stately (Wordsworth, Keats), and those words and emotions in-between.
While She Walks in Beauty occasionally is little more (or less—and this is fine) than an actor’s dramatic recitation of the English Romantics, her passionate, supple grace and guile and her scuffed bassoon-like vocals give each of these poets pulse, their iambic pentameter real guts, groove, and swagger. In particular, the match between Ellis’ small-scale hurricanes and Faithfull’s bluster make poet Thomas Hood’s ”The Bridge of Sighs” heave delicately, and Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and Byron’s hearty “So We’ll Go No More a Roving” pull on heartstrings and loins in their sensualist appropriation of true poetry.