Case Hardin’s last album PM was a spare affair, its stripped back songs gathering comparisons to Willie Vlautin’s bare boned American tales. For Colours Simple the band have limbered up, taken a Charles Atlas rock’n’roll class and now show off their musical muscle. Singer and main writer Pete Gow continues to recount his tales of life’s casualties with a keen journalist’s eye but there’s a heft to the songs and in particular the sinewy guitar work of Jim Maving sparkles throughout. The four piece band (Gow, Maving, Tim Emery, bass and Andy Bastow, drums) are augmented by the keyboard playing of Mike Wesson while a horn section (composed of Robin & Joe Bennett of Dreaming Spires and Free Jazz Geoff Widdowson of Danny And The Champions Of The World) features on one song.
They nail their colours to the mast with the opening eight minutes and twenty seconds of Poets Corner, a song that is epic in its sweep in a manner reminiscent of Springsteen but without his swagger. A booming bass drum tolls as the song begins before organ and guitar creep in and Gow paints a claustrophobic picture of a hot and sticky urban scene. Halfway through the song Maving launches into a spiralling guitar assault as the song ascends a crescendo before eventually winding down and ending with that same tolling drum. A spectacular and intense song it leaves the listener somewhat winded, for the remainder of the album however (other than two songs) they continue to rock and definitely roll with less intensity and, dare we say, a sense of fun. Fiction Writer and High Rollers hark back to the spare sound of FM, the latter especially given the presence of Hana Piranha’s violin. Fiction Writer is a melancholic meditation on loneliness with Gow sounding world weary while High Rollers is a classic story telling song in the Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark tradition. Bravely Gow sings here from the point of view of a female casino worker who does more than deal decks, describing the grimness behind the glitz and supposed glamour.
Elsewhere it’s all shoulders to the wheel as the band romp into the rockier numbers. These Three Cities has Gow telling of an encounter with a prostitute over a rolling bluesy and blowsy melody reminiscent of Del Amitri. Roll Damnation Roll sees Maving on acoustic slide guitar on a short introduction before the song kicks in much in the manner of an old Rod Stewart number. The song itself follows suit with its acoustic swing recalling Ronnie Lane’s sashaying strut as mandolin and honky tonk piano trill and roll. Cheap Streaks From A Bottle is a streetwise rocker with the brass section injecting the bustle of city living and again one is reminded of Rod Stewart, this time in his guise as one of the lads in the Faces, a sense repeated on the rollicking The Streets where The Bars Are with Wesson’s fingers flying across the keys and Maving sliding away. The inevitable hangover is memorably described on (Jesus Christ Tomorrow Morning) Do I Still have To Feel This Way? which bumps and grinds with a fury, guitars snarling over organ swirls and a tight backbeat. The album ends with the mandolin and acoustic guitar driven Another Toytown Morning with Gow coming on like a modern day Phil Ochs, full of fire and fury.
Colours Simple is the album which should elevate Pete Gow to the upper echelons of UK songwriters while he and the band are to be congratulated for carrying on the baton from the likes of Ronnie Lane carving out a rootsy rock and folk route that is not slavishly American.