Released: 26 May 2023
Following a run of outstanding and acclaimed singles, on 26 May Sunday Best recordings will release Version Girl, Rhoda Dakar’s first album in five years.
Version Girl’s title is derived from Dandy Livingstone’s ‘Version Girl’, a song partly used as an intro track to the album. Rhoda’s connection to Livingstone dates to her first ever release, a cover of his ‘Let’s Do Rocksteady’ which she recorded with The Bodysnatchers for the iconic 2-Tone label.
A 12-song collection, the album features a diverse range of covers chosen by Rhoda, celebrating her love of Reggae, Ska and Rocksteady. Most of these songs have never before been given proper treatments in these incredibly versatile and timeless Jamaican genres.
Not only does Version Girl celebrate Rhoda’s love of all things Reggae, it also passionately celebrates musicians who inspired her from her adolescence through to adulthood. These include one of her musical heroes, David Bowie, in the form of a first ever committed reggae treatment of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, and a cover of ‘Hangin’ Round’ from the Lou Reed’s Bowie-produced Transformer album.
Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, one of Rhoda’s favourite ever singers, is the inspiration for an organ-driven, Skinhead Reggae version of ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, and the track which kick-started the Version Girl project, a plaintive take on ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’. These two songs The Pretenders made their own and Rhoda listened to their version of the latter obsessively during the first lockdown and, once she and her band could re-enter the studio, it was the first song they recorded.
Revered singer-songwriter Elvis Costello is connected to Rhoda via his production of ‘Nelson Mandela’ on her band The Special AKA’s In The Studio, an album released on the 2-Tone label. Rhoda acknowledges Costello as the person who introduced her to country music via his 1981 album Almost Blue. The two country songs she has recorded for Version Girl are ‘Walking After Midnight’ and ‘Love Hurts’. On the former she and her outstanding band recreate the classic sound of Ska – pioneered by her drummer Marley’s great grandfather, trombonist Don Drummond. The latter selection was inspired by Rhoda’s love of the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ version.
Rhoda and album producer Lenny Bignell celebrate their shared love of The Rolling Stones on the Jagger-Richards’ composition ‘As Tears Go By’. Originally written for and recorded by Marianne Faithfull, and widely covered, surprisingly in almost 60 years it has never received the reggae treatment.
Perhaps the most personal song on the album is a cover of ‘What A Wonderful World’, originally recorded by Louis Armstrong, a friend of Rhoda’s father from his time spent working as a jazz musician in Paris during the 1920s and ‘30s. The result is three-and-a-half-minutes of outstanding reggae, with one of Rhoda’s best ever vocal performances – a moving tribute to the original version and her family connection to Louis Armstrong.
From his time spent in Paris, Rhoda’s father was a fluent French speaker and due to this she grew up hearing him speak French to her auntie in particular. She showcases her French for the first time on record on a cover of Maxime Le Forestier’s ‘Comme Un Arbre’.
Elvis Costello’s influence is also present on album closer ‘What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding’. Originally written and recorded by Nick Lowe, like most people Rhoda was introduced to the song by Costello’s version. Her chilled-out version is the perfect closer to an outstanding album, one which aims to leave people with a smile and glimmer of hope.