It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a buzz around a forthcoming release as surrounds this live recording of the magnificent Danny & The Champions Of The World. Ever since it was announced social networks and actual people (remember them) have been following every utterance and pronouncement on Facebook and Twitter along with some early reviews. It’s testament to The Champs’ current status as perhaps the best live band in the UK right now as they’ve relentlessly toured on the back of their last album “Stay True” which won accolades right left and centre while they were voted best band in the Americana UK readers poll for 2013.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see the band twice this year and can honestly say that both nights were the highlights of the year so far. Danny George Wilson grabs the attention as the front man, passionate and on fire, barking out the lyrics and acting as ringmaster to the hugely talented band he has grouped around him. An excellent songwriter (as evidenced on the albums going back to Grand Drive days) Wilson has supplied his Champs with prime musical DNA which on stage leads to extended workouts allowing the band to stretch out as Danny pumps the audience like an old time revue MC. Tight and disciplined they never descend into jam land, the solos are all in service to the song and as a unit they can hunker down allowing Danny full rein as chorus leader, cajoling the crowd. In addition they can switch from country to soul to rock’n’roll almost at the drop of a hat with the show as a whole offering a variety of styles recalling the likes of Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and Otis Redding.
It almost goes without saying that anyone who has seen The Champs recently should be champing at the bit for this opportunity to relive the experience in the comfort of their own armchair. For the others I’d suggest that their album is almost on a par with that doyen of live albums, Van Morrison’s Its Too Late To Stop Now. Not in the sense that it sounds similar (although The Champs certainly have more than a whiff of Morrison’s Caledonia Soul about them) but that it’s a perfect capture of an artist at the height of his powers as the songs tumble out, each one a gem. (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket, an autobiographical tale, opens the album and immediately the sinewy suppleness of The Champs grabs you. A Southern backbeat befitting The Band drives the song while pedal steel glides. Sax and gutsy guitar solos burn for a while before the steel hovers back into view on a song that stirs up a powerful emotional pull. Cold Cold World is, simply put, an excellent slice of country styled Motown dance stance that shows off the band’s tight playing along with Wilson’s way with a catchy riff. There’s more Motown mischief with the Miracles styled Let’s Grab This World With Both Hands which oozes soul before the lengthy Colonel And The King lets the band off of the leash, ripping into the song with Paul Lush on guitar firing off rapid volleys as the rhythm section batter on like an express train. A fiery solo from Lush eventually gives way to a master class in pedal steel from Henry Senior as the tempo slows and Free Jazz Geoff Widdowson lets fly on sax. The elements all converge from here on in as the band whip into a frenzied state before winding to the end, an astonishing performance which is as powerful as anything The Allman Brothers laid down at the Fillmore. Darlin’ Won’t You Come In From The Cold and Stop Thief are soulful entries and disc one ends with the crowd favourite Henry The Van which engenders a fantastic crowd sing-along.
Other Days opens disc two with more soul styled pleadings from Wilson as the band weave pedal steel and sax into a fantastic sounding amalgam of soul and country Every Beat Of My Heart is a rip roaring E Street Band type number as is You Don’t Know (My Heart Is In The Right Place) with the band in rip roaring form, parping sax, crunchy guitar and tight solos delivering a killer punch. Restless Feet, a song from Streets Of Our Time is graced by the presence of Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou who sang on the original. Its Dylanish heritage gets a hefty Muscle Shoals makeover with pedal steel snaking throughout the song while Lush rips out an audacious solo guitar burst. After this we’re into the encores on the night with Been There Before a slick streamed stroll that has Wilson growling and scatting as the band vamp magnificently. Finally These Days ( where Wilson initially forgets the words!) has a Stax pumping beat that leads straight to the feet, live or on disc you can’t help but jive to this. Chris Clarke on bass drives the song on as the band lock tight into a mighty groove.
Danny & The Champs are definitely on a roll and this album caps what has been a tremendous year for them. They’re slated to appear at Jack White’s Third Man Records stage at the next Americana Music Festival in Nashville while they will be swinging back through the UK in October including a date in Glasgow. The album is released on 29th September and you can order it here.