This past March 9th, John Cale celebrated his 75th birthday, while days later he saw the iconic debut album of his group The Velvet Underground receive a wide range of commemoration for its 50th anniversary.
However, there’s another significant calendar date in the artful Welshman’s life on the horizon this September when his classic live album Fragments Of A Rainy Season turns 25. But Cale’s current label, Domino Records, couldn’t wait until the fall to release their expanded edition of the LP, giving the album a gray cover and adding a bonus CD containing eight outtakes, including four performances with the Solider String Quartet who were not featured on the original release (particularly a pair of fantastic versions of “Fear (Is A Man’s Best Friend)” and “Paris 1919”) as well as a stellar version of “Amsterdam” off his solo debut Vintage Violence.
As for the original 20 tracks initially featured on Fragments when it was first released via Rykodisc a quarter century ago, they’ve never sounded crisper or more intimate than they do on this special edition. Much of the material from this live set was culled from Paris 1919 as well as Cale’s 1989 LP Words From The Dying, an album of Dylan Thomas poems set to music. But the thing which makes Fragments such an essential addition to any Cale fan’s collection are the spare, solo renditions of such Island-era fan faves as “Ship of Fools” off the 1974 Fear LP and “Leaving It Up to You” from 1975’s Helen of Troy, not to mention a haunting live version of “Hallelujah”, a highlight of the 1991 Leonard Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan and one that featured alternate lyrics Cohen would use when playing the song in concert.
At 75, John Cale is an international treasure as one of the last surviving members of the Velvet Underground (and the only one still making music, given that Moe Tucker is largely out of the public eye save for her involvement in the Tea Party movement). And while his discography is a sprawling spectrum of sounds that runs the gamut from neo-classical to proto-hip-hop and everything weird, cool and elegant in between, the spare, intimate nature of Fragments Of A Rainy Season peels away all the extraneous noises to reveal the purity of Cale’s indomitable strength as one of the most underrated pop songwriters in modern history.