Alex Chilton ELECTRICITY BY CANDLELIGHT
It would be easy to dismiss “Electricity By Candlelight” as a slight collection of throwaway performances.
But raw as the posthumous release “Electricity By Candlelight” is, it offers touching insight into longtime New Orleans resident Alex Chilton’s personal playlist. The singer-songwriter must have loved most of these songs enough to learn to play them for his own enjoyment.
The album has a backstory. It exists only because a power outage plunged New York City’s Knitting Factory music club into darkness on Feb. 13, 1997.
Chilton — a singer-songwriter from Memphis who found fame with The Box Tops (“The Letter”) and cult status with Big Star — and his band had played one set at the Knitting Factory that night but, after the lights went out, management cancelled the rest of the show.
When people didn’t leave, Chilton stepped onto the club’s floor, holding a borrowed acoustic guitar. By candlelight, he played an impromptu, eclectic performance. His drummer, Richard Dworkin, accompanied him for half of the hour-long show.
Chilton’s improvised set list included country classics by Johnny Cash (“Walk the Line”), Tammy Wynette (“D-I-V-O-R-C-E”) and Glen Sherley’s ode to bad boys and the women who love them, “Step Right This Way.” He also acknowledged the king of country via Hank Williams Sr.’s first hit, “Lovesick Blues.”
Moving closer to New Orleans, where a heart attack felled him in 2010 at 59, Chilton sang Baton Rouge swamp-blues artist Slim Harpo’s country-blues weeper, “Raining in My Heart.”
He also revealed his love for Brian Wilson by playing a trio of Beach Boys selections. Chilton sang full versions of the songs and even accurately reproduced the instrumental intro to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
Bossa nova classic “Girl From Ipanema” got full-dress treatment, too, including Dworkin’s percussion and “ahhs” performed by the audience. Some selections are incomplete (Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”), but Chilton usually chose to perform songs he knew well.