Cave's revamping of old acoustic blues material has long been a touchstone of his art, and the numbers by Leadbelly, Blind Willie Johnson and other traditional songs resonate loudly with Cave's almost singular focus on sin, redemption and salvation. As is to be expected, alternate takes reveal entire new ways of looking at songs: both "City of Refuge" and "Deanna" are remade as jaunty gospel numbers. Of course, there are covers, by Neil Young, The Pogues, Leonard Cohen, Roy Orbison and Cave's pre-Bad Seeds crew, The Birthday Party ("The Six Strings That Drew Blood"). The Pogues' Shane MacGowan also drops by for a duet of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
Lots of the material runs towards aching ballads and acoustic numbers; on the other hand, thunderous tracks like the raunchy "Scum," "The Girl at the Bottom of My Glass" and the sneering instrumental "Cocks 'N' Asses" remind us that Nick used to do arty porn with Lydia Lunch. The Bad Seeds themselves are uniformly brilliant throughout, of course. Nick Cave's long strange trip has brought him increasingly into direct contact with the truly sublime, and B-Sides & Rarities is nothing less.