Treetop Flyers – Old Habits: Album Review

London’s Treetop Flyers pay unashamed tribute to their seminal influences.

Release Date:  3rd December 2021

Label: Loose Music

Formats: CD / Vinyl

I have a habit that some have said they find endearing but which, I suspect, makes many others cringe, and that is, when I listen to an album for the first time, I pick out sections of the music that reflect the composer’s or artists’ influences and I comment on them.  Sometimes, an influence is so obvious, that the final product can cross that invisible line that divides “influenced by” from “derivative,” but that doesn’t mean that the music is any less enjoyable or worthwhile.

Well, London’s Treetop Flyers have just released an album that is proudly and unashamedly “derivative.”  Old Habits, the band’s fourth album, deliberately and overtly channels the band’s seminal influences and carries the brandings of The Faces, Ronnie Lane, Traffic, Van Morrison and George Harrison lovingly and plainly for all to hear.  And, for anyone who cares to delve a little deeper, there’s also lots of other enticing flavours to enjoy – Stax soul, Motown, The Band, The Stones and a touch of both English and West Coast psychedelia are all here on this intriguing and entertaining album.

Treetop Flyers will, of course, be familiar to many.  Founder member Reid Morrison (vocals and acoustic guitar), Laurie Sherman (guitars) and Sam Beer (piano, guitars and backing vocals) came together in London in 2009 and the current lineup also includes Ned Crowther on bass and backing vocals, Rupert Shreeve on drums and Geoff Widdowson on sax and backing vocals.  The band won the prestigious Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition in 2011 (At The Barrier is, incidentally, proud to have been a judge at the 2020 version of that same competition…) and the plaudits have poured in pretty consistently since then, from such respected sources as The Guardian, Mojo, Q and Uncut.  These boys mean real business.

Old Habits represents a significant move away from the band’s signature American/West Coast sound.  The white soul of Traffic, Ronnie Wood’s searing guitar style, Ronnie Lane’s sensitive, gypsy-country vocals, Van Morrison’s lyricism, George Harrison’s sensitivity and slide guitar, Otis Redding’s crisp delivery and Marvin Gaye’s soulful pleading are all deeply interwoven into the songs presented here.  The songs were written and put down during the second half of 2019 and the band spent the time “gifted” to them by lockdown to bury themselves in their studio, The Cube, to refine the product that we’re now offered.  And it’s a joy – top class songs with a variety of retro sounds that, in all honesty, deserve to be pressed onto vinyl with a classic pink Island label at its centre.

Right from the start, we’re left in no doubt what to expect.  Opening track, Golden Hour is the perfect appetizer for the treats to come; a solid foundation of piano and bass with the first of the album’s many Ronnie Wood guitar licks right upfront, all supplemented by some wonderfully subtle organ tones – and that’s all before Reid jumps in with his delicious soul-tinged vocals.  The song’s lyrics were inspired by a London subset that Reid viewed from the roof of his house and they establish the “Good old London” theme that permeates the entire album.

It was whilst browsing a box of old letters from a former partner that Reid came up with the idea for Dancing Figurines.  It struck him that, in their communications with each other, he and his former paramour tended to dance around the point somewhat – hence the song’s title.  The song has a real Ronnie Lane feel, in both structure and vocal style and the vocals interact wonderfully with Laurie’s wistful wah-wah guitar.  Dancing Figurines captures and bottles that classic sixties soft rock style from which the post Peter Green Fleetwood Mac took their cue and, here, Treetop Flyers demonstrate that it’s a sound that will never grow old.

For One Hundred, the band move on to Stax soul, complete with Floyd Newman-inspired sax.  Tight, souly and wonderful, it’s a song that makes you want get into your Tardis and go back to the Flamingo Club, circa 1966.  Current single Castlewood Road took its title from the Stoke Newington street where guitarist Laurie Sherman lives.  A stirring tribute to London and home, it’s another tasty slice of white soul that becomes more Motown as the song progresses and Geoff’s sax is, once again, thrilling.

The mood changes for the sumptuous River.  With strummed guitars, plucked bass, lush sax and some nice twangy slide guitar, it’s a distant cousin to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, but more tightly structured.  And it’s so good to see that it’s not just the Mississippi that can inspire a lazy, fulfilling song about a river.  Treetop Flyers prove here that the Thames can do that too!

For the album’s title track, Treetop Flyers don the costumes of The Band (who were, of course, famous for NOT wearing costumes…)  Saloon bar piano, strummed acoustic guitars, rhythmic, laid-back verses and a slowed-down harmonized chorus make Old Habits sound like a Music From Big Pink out-take, That is until Laurie adds a bit more of his George Harrison slide guitar!  And if Old Habits is enough to get you up on your feet, I’m sure that you’ll stay there for the raucous, rocky Cool Your Jets.  Like a cross between The Faces and The Rolling Stones, complete with sax breaks that would make Bobby Keys proud, it’s Reid’s melodic and very English vocal that reminds us that this is a London album, and nothing to do with New Orleans.  I’m not too sure about the motorbike interlude though…

The album’s folkiest, and probably it least derivative track is the dreamy Out of the Blue.  Sung by bassist Ned Crowther it’s soft and very English sounding, with a tune that really embeds itself and which I later realised bears a remarkable resemblance to The Troggs’ A Girl Like You.  Penultimate track, Sometimes, takes its inspiration from a range of sources.  It starts life as another piece of southern soul – which Reid sings wonderfully – before heading into Marvin Gaye territory and then closing with a flavour of Swinging London psychedelia.

Reid Morrison has made the point, in several forums, that George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is a favourite album and the influence of that album is particularly evident in Old Habits’ closing track, Night Choir.  But although the slow piano and soaring slide guitar is textbook 1970 Harrison, Reid’s soulful vocal once again brings the song back to suburban London – and the tingling wah-wah guitar solo that brings the song, and the album, to a close is almost worth the price of the album on its own!

Old Habits is a wonderful album – unmissable for anyone with a yearning for the heady days of 1966-71.

Watch the Official video to Castlewood Road, the album’s lead single, here:

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