In 2010, Peter Gabriel had the idea to record a cover album of some of his favorite songs. That’s nothing new — artists do that all the time. What was unique about the project was that the covers were to be orchestral versions with no guitars or rock drums. This album was called Scratch My Back and was generally well received. There was to be a companion album entitled, I’ll Scratch Yours where the artists Gabriel covered on his album would return the favor, covering one of his tracks. That never happened, though a few artists came through and their tracks were released as double A-sided singles with Gabriel’s versions of their songs. What happened instead was, in 2011, Gabriel released an album of orchestral versions of his own songs called New Blood. The ensuing tour with the New Blood Orchestra was captured on the new CD, Peter Gabriel - Blood Live.
The show opens with the eerie “Intruder,” originally from Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album. The new arrangement finds cellos replacing Phil Collins’ original drum track, adding a different, yet equally menacing, feel to the track.
Disc one features a number of the Scratch My Back songs, including a stark version of Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble.” Gabriel tells the crowd that they “stripped all the African blood out of it and that we’re left with another, miserable white man’s song.” Indeed, while Simon’s version was bouncy, Gabriel’s is isolated and lonely in its feel. Gabriel’s cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book Of Love” doesn’t stray far from the original’s arrangement, but remains no less poignant and serves as an excellent vehicle for Gabriel’s emotive vocals.
Many of Gabriel’s greatest hits comprise disc two, leading off with “Digging In The Dirt,” originally on 1993’s Us. While not that different from the original version, the orchestra adds a dramatic edge to the song’s bridge not present on the studio version. The lack of tribal drums doesn’t keep 1983’s “The Rhythm Of The Heat” from being any less frightening while guest vocalist Sevara Nazarkhan elevates “In Your Eyes” to new heights.
Ben Foster conducted the New Blood Orchestra and its players are top notch throughout. John Metcalfe arranged the songs with Gabriel. For an artist that has always pushed musical boundaries, Live Blood seems to be the next logical step. It’s a rewarding listen and shows an artist that is still vital and willing to take chances.