Album number two from accomplished jangle meisters continues to polish their retro hues in a shining new light.
Release Date: 31st March 2023
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
Tony Poole is cresting the wave of his life, as he continues to make hay, finding sunshine in a plethora of new life awakenings into styles long thought dormant. No relation to Brian, or indeed any other of the Tremeloes, he is of a slightly more recent vintage, helming the never more Byrdsian Starry Eyed And Laughing back in the 1970s. When their career stalled, little or nothing much was heard until whispers of new band of whippersnappers emerged a year or five ago. Teaming up with a pair of similarly experienced journeymen, one Danny Wilson, or Danny George Wilson, frontman of both Grand Drive and Danny & the Champions of the World, and Robin Poole, from the Dreaming Spires, their eponymous debut, in 2018 came out to a grateful reception, their jangle heavy Americana bliss to many an ear. A tour and then they again fell off the radar. Poole, meanwhile, revived SE&L, whose 3rd album of new material we reviewed here, a mere 46 years after the last, arguably a record. Wilson kept his own b(r)and going and Bennett has picked up on a solo career, as well as being an acclaimed choral singer of Bach cantatas, but most were wondering when and if BWP had another in ’em. And they do!
With Poole producing and playing a bevy of instruments, with no disrespect to his cohorts, this is very much his show, even as he allows them to shine across their own songs. Wilson and Bennett wrote the draft material for the vast bulk of this record, with Poole taking it away, buffing it up and adding touches of his own. Masterfully. Of course, they also play guitar and, with strong and individually distinct vocal styles, it is when the harmonies get switched on that the magic is truly made. Any other three-name bands, with a proficiency in vocals may come to mind and it would not be an unfair comparison. Playing the Dallas Turner and Greg Reeves, where Poole isn’t himself, are Joe Bennett, brother of Robin and the other Dreaming Spire, on bass, with Fin Kenny, on drums.
After an odd discombobulated voice asks whether you are ready to rumble, it is, remarkably, another band that the opener I Saw Love brings to mind, or rather two. Cross a melody line typical of the very early Beatles, with, say, the 12 string sound of Ticket To Ride, and some harmonies that aren’t a million miles away from a slightly more ragged Beach Boys. So, the Carl and the Passions period. This is no pastiche, mind, there is enough distance here to show clear blue water between these links, the string bender solo coming in from somewhere else altogether. All the guitar solos, and there are a few, come fom Poole. The final harmony note could only come from one source, however; see if you can spot it. And, dang it, if Waiting For The Wave To Break doesn’t make you think of vintage whimsical Macca, then you ain’t got a soul. Even the bass, which this time is Bennett, J, is classic PM. A song by Bennett, R and Wilson, the chopped guitars mimic the cellos that you know who would have added. As is the coda.
A bit of lightweight politics next, I Wanna Love You (But I Can’t Right Now), an out of love song with the US, which reels off all the icons that drew so many to the former colony. Wilson takes the vocal lead here, his voice an agreeable croak, which, if we are to perpetuate a Beatles link, sounds not far adrift from their erstwhile engineer, Norman ‘Hurricane’ Smith. A Five Miles High guitar solo, possibly backwards, then goes pleasingly weird on us. Possibly a little trite on a first listen, it’s a grower, and I found myself singing along, like many a list song, think REM’s End Of The World, if also, like that, getting everything in the wrong order. Some Space Oddity strumming and shimmers introduce Help Me See My Way, Benett’s voice a pure, delicate and frail plea. The bass from his brother is again to the fore and worth a concentrate upon. The middle eight brings forth the first overt C,S & N comparison, before a delightfully wiggly and wonky guitar solo, to close. Poole references the solo from Wooden Ships in his liner notes; I’ll leave you to source whether you agree and to which version!
Cry At The Movies further follows the shift back stateside, the 12 string a ringer for McGuinn, the song more kin of the Burrito’s, not that there was ever that much of a gap. More string bender guitar, for that vintage touch and not the steel you might mistake it for. This is Poole’s song and vocal, and it would be an instant showstopper live, more of which later. Another co-write from his bandmates, and, in another swerve the guitar immediately suggests who walked in the room. (Still searching?) There is a lovely moment as the backing drops away, leaving the three voices stranded mid-air to sing the “we’re just ordinary people, living ordinary lives” line, drenched in echo. Fab. Yvonne then enters the pantheon of songs with lesser-spotted female names. A relatively simple progression, it is lighter than much the material here, if offset by the harmonies and the, again, Beatle-y middle, chopped guitar and keyboards to underline the pathos.
Heartsongs, unlike many of the songs, was worked up and laid down primarily by Bennett. Poole’s notes here reference the White Album, and I can certainly hear a whiff of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer in the construction, a song I can’t otherwise abide. Let alone the Hey Jude na na na naa chorus. All of this is cleverer than it reads, as one of my usual disclaimers is that, ordinarily, I am no great fan of the mop tops. So enough of the comparisons already, which is hopeless as the stabbed organ notes of Tye Dye T-Shirt echo but one source, which, considering the song is a country-rocker, is a little bizarre, in a good way. (The source is who? And that’s the clue.) Kenny’s drums notice this and play appropriately all over the shop. The “open up your eyes” bit is then clearly acquainted with the Everlasting Love hitmakers and the closing solo is back to the Byrds and recalls, closely, (So You Want To Be A) Rock And Roll Star. Totally bonkers to be able to fuse all these sources and succeed, but they do; the track a highlight.
You might think the band, or Poole at least, might have tired of all this chicanery by the final track, The Sea And The Shore. A simple piano-led ballad, this is again Bennett playing and singing, with the other two coming cooing in gradually. The choral build escalates, with organ and Leslied guitar, the latter appearing for the second time across this record. The bass and drums stutter in and it is suddenly complete. Imagine lighters in the sky, especially as a chiming guitar cuts in and across. Corny? Could be, but, and I usually do, who cares? This time I don’t, even as the closing chord goes on forever. Like, well, you know.
I was a little sceptical, in truth, reading the liner notes ahead of my first listen. That listen calmed most my fears, the second and subsequent rendering this as a definite keeper. When Poole says “hopefully the references are outweighed a little by a semblance of originality”, they certainly are. This should appeal both across their existing Americana hungry fanbase, as well as attracting some new ears. The joy is that, even as you play what Poole calls TP Bingo, spotting the references, you can enjoy these without ever even having heard that band from Liverpool.
Did I mention live? Let me point you in the direction of the Ramblin’ Roots Revue, a three-day Americana fest next month, held in High Wycombe, between the 14th and 16th of April. Over the course of the weekend, punters will get the opportunity not only to grab Bennett Wilson Poole, but also Starry Eyed And Laughing, as well as other ATB favourites like Dean Owens and Police Dog Hogan.
Back to BWP, here’s Help Me See My Way. And if the video and the album cover, at the head of the page, is irredeemably groovy, you’d be right, as it has in it the hand of John Hurford, in his day a prime illustrator for both Oz and the International Times