Review: Saint Etienne Presents Songs for a Central Park Picnic

CD. Croydon Municipal

The first release from Saint Etienne main man Bob Stanley’s new Croydon Municipal label, Songs for a Central Park Picnic is, essentially, a concept compilation album – like all concept albums, there’s a theme running through it, but that theme is presented through the recordings of various artists.

It’s not easy to make a conceptual piece out of pre-existing works. I’d say that Trent Reznor managed it with the soundtrack to Natural Born Killers and Stanley just about pulls it off here, albeit in very different fashion. This is less about telling a story as evoking a theme – taking the listener on a journey through a hot summer’s day, chilling to a mix of light jazz, girl groups, easy listening and soulful pop. It’s a highly effective manipulation of atmosphere, with Stanley’s sleeve notes walking us through a fictional day where this music is the backdrop to a day of relaxation in New York.

Some of the tunes are familiar, even if the titles and artists are not – opener Softly As In A Morning Sunrise by Vince Guaraldi is the epitome of cool jazz, setting the scene perfectly. Sammy Davis Jr’s Bee Bom is a fine slice of pop jazz, effortlessly swinging, funky and hip. Fans of The Strange World of Gurney Slade will recognise is as the theme tune to the show. Unexpected theme music can also be found in the shape of Dave Baby Cortez’s Rinky Dink, which was partially cannibalised and covered on the Deep Throat soundtrack!

Slick doo wop tales of doomed love are found in Untie Me by The Tams, Peanuts by Little Joe and the Thrillers, and a rare vocal version of Stranger on the Shore performed by The Drifters, while guitar instrumentals are represented by the likes of The Rangoons’ Moon Guitar and Lalo Shifrin provides a typically fantastic groove-laden lounge number in Boato (Bistro).

There are obscure pop ballads – the melodramatic Be Sure My Love by Teddy Randazzo , A Kiss from Your Lips by Billy Storm, Raincoat in the River by Sammy Turner, You Don’t Have To Be a Tower of Strength by Gloria Lynne. Some are well known songs like Moon River performed by less well known artists (Jerry Butler – not the porn star of the same name!); and while the name Artie Garr might not seem familiar, the voice of this balladeer on Private World will be immediately recognisable as Art Garfunkel!

We also get funky Latino dance pop numbers like Yma Sumac’s Gopher Mambo, Ellie Gaye’s Cha Cha Charming and Henry Mancini’s Something for Cat. And then there’s the swinging, groovy, moody pop from The Four Tunes (Marie), Arthur Alexander (Where Have You Been) and a fantastic song from Connie Francis (It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time).

The album ends with the romantic, lush orchestral sounds of Bill Pursell’s Our Winter Love – the perfect finale to our day in the park as the sun slowly sets. Thanks to this perfectly curated and sequenced compilation, it’s been a great day – what summer is all about. The sort of day everyone with good taste will want to enjoy again and again.