BJ Cole – Daydream Smile: Album Review

Grab a beer, sit back, and watch the sun set as the Pacific laps around your feet.  BJ Cole brings Hawaii to your living room

Release Date:  27th November 2020

Label: Cow Pie

Formats: CD,/ digital / vinyl

We all know BJ Cole.  In fact, I doubt there can be any visitors to At The Barrier who don’t possess at least half a dozen albums on which he is featured.  From Elton John (Tiny Dancer), Andy Fairweather-Low (Wide Eyed And Legless), Gerry Rafferty (City To City) to the likes of Robert Plant, R.E.M. and John Cale, BJ Cole has long been the guy to call if you’re looking for some pedal steel to brighten up your tunes. 

It’s not just session work and backing band participation that he’s known for – BJ was a key and long-serving member both of the seminal Cochise (Britain’s own Flying Burrito Brothers) and The Hank Wangford Band. If all that’s not enough, he’s also released a long string of often highly experimental,  solo and collaborative work. The most recent was his Myoptik album of 2015. 

Not content with a reputation as the UK’s top exponent of the pedal steel, he’s also ventured deeply into electronica and has worked with Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Luke Vibert.  BJ Cole is a hugely talented, versatile and major achiever.

For his new album, Daydream Smile, BJ has wound back the clock and returned, more or less, to his roots.  Back in the early years of the 20th century, the music of Hawaii was massively popular throughout the world and particularly so in Mainland USA.  Its influences were absorbed into blues and C&W and the guitar sounds that originated on the islands found their way into the work of such luminaries as Hank Marvin and Santo & Johnny.  An early disciple of such guitar pioneers, BJ had long ago traced their musical styles back to their Hawaiin roots.  Daydream Smile is a celebration of those roots.

For the album, BJ is joined by Dave Eastoe, a fine musician with a strong feel for Hawaiian music and particular mastery of the local Slack Key guitar styles.  Together, Dave and BJ have composed and performed a charming set of tunes.

Rarely can an album have been so appropriately named.  Daydream Smile describes perfectly the visions and emotions that this music evokes. Even on a damp November day in England, the album conjures a scene at a tranquil beach bar where, beer in hand, the listener sits back whilst the Pacific laps around his feet and a glorious sunset illuminates the gentle waves.  OK, that might be putting things a bit too poetically, but, after listening to this album, I certainly had a strong urge to pack my bag and head off to somewhere warmer!

The album is predominantly instrumental and that’s a great strength.  The main instruments are BJ’s pedal steel (of course…) and Daves acoustic guitar and vibes. The use of bass and percussion is minimal but highly effective.  In fact, of the three songs that feature vocals, only on Down In Old Hawaii are these wholly effective.  On this track, a comfortable, relaxed vocal entices the listener towards the islands and the female harmonies are exquisite.  Unfortunately, I felt that the vocals on the other two non-instrumental tracks – Daydream Smile and Paniolo Song – were a little strained, and detracted slightly from the beautiful instrumentation.

However, the instrumental pieces are truly delightful, from opening track Slinky Hula Heaven, through the lazy tipsy Doodle, the wistful Little Gem Waltz and Waltz Of The Dolphins to the utterly stunning closing tracks Muscle Beach and Blue Aloha. They’re all a sheer pleasure to listen to, as the pedal steel, the guitars and the rest combine to paint that glorious tropical vista.

For anyone planning a beach barbeque any time soon, this BJ Cole album is indispensable.  For the rest of you, it’s a brilliant listen, guaranteed to bring sunshine to your rainy day. Thanks, BJ Cole!

Listen to Paniolo Song from the album here:

BJ Cole online: Website /Facebook

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