When Blabber’n’Smoke met with Ags Connolly back in April we were talking about albums we were currently enjoying. Ags mentioned that he was really digging the debut album from Simon Stanley Ward, a London based musician who’s been pretty much a feature of the London scene for the past ten years or so. Ags also mentioned that Ward had Paul Lush from Danny & The Champs playing guitar all over the album which was incentive enough (apart from Ags’ impeccable taste) to search out this album.
Well, Ags spoke the truth as Ward’s album is one of the best UK based “Americana” albums we’ve heard in some time. Over the course of 10 songs he delves into honky tonk, bitter sweet country ballads and some rockabilly coming across, believe it or not, as the missing link between Lonnie Donegan and Dwight Yoakam. Ward has a similar nasal twang to Donegan in his voice and although there’s nothing pioneering here, like Donegan he’s a Londoner singing songs inspired by an American dream. In fact Ward homes in on this potential dilemma with his inspired song, American Voice where he admits he “never heard a whippoorwill cry at night and I don’t drink whisky, I never been in a fight” but in his defence he has been “so lonesome I could cry.” The irony here is that Ward sings this with a fine sense of braggadocio while his band of local worthies conjure up an excellent country rock skirl, fiddle blazing away before a characteristically brilliant guitar solo from Lush. The playing throughout the album is excellent. While Lush might draw in fans of The Champs the band (David Rothon (Redlands Palomino Company), pedal steel; producer Arthur Rathbone Pullen, keyboards; Geoff Easeman, bass; Neil Marsh, drums and Ben Wain, fiddle) match him with their ensemble efforts while Lorraine Wood and Laura Tenschert support Ward with some fine backing harmonies.
The album opens with a brooding guitar twang on Monster Song, a moody and remorseful apologia which summons up the ghosts of Roy Orbison and Mary Shelley, a mood immediately dispelled by the spritely rockabilly strut of 100 Days In Heaven. Trouble Somewhere weighs in with a classic pedal steel introduction as Ward and the band parade their finely honed Burritos’ styled country rock while Please Excuse me (I Feel Sorry For Myself) returns to Yoakam like hillbilly rock. There’s some more retro riffing on the Buddy Holly hiccups of Obvious To You while Homesick rattles along with a sound and vigour that recalls Dylan and The Band going pell mell in 1965. Dylan comes to mind again on the closing song, Over Here although this time it’s the latter day biblical prophet who’s mined here with an organ led soulful groove sounding like an out take from Slow Train Coming.
Elsewhere Ward delivers some finely honed sob stories. Another Page is a plaintive ballad with lonesome guitar pleadings while Behind Closed Doors is a simply beautiful and heartfelt love song. Laced with yearning pedal steel, gentle piano and wistful harmonica the song is haunting with some vivid images in the lyrics as Ward recalls a first walk around a lake with his partner “getting naked in every possible way.” Ward sings wonderfully here, wounded and lost as the song meanders to its conclusion.