It’s difficult to be objective about a record that, since its announcement a few months back, has had one panting in anticipation to hear the music inscribed in its groove. Hearing that Danny Wilson of Danny & The Champs, Robin Bennett from The Dreaming Spires and Tony Poole, the estimable 12 string maestro of Starry Eyed & Laughing Fame (and a true Blabber’n’Smoke hero) had joined forces was somewhat equivalent to being told that everyone had lied and that Santa Claus did exist. Well, maybe some exaggeration there, but the concept was exciting and intriguing and as some songs and videos emerged along with reports of their initial live shows the die was surely cast, this might be something special.
How did three songwriters, all steeped in American music, two of them with a particular penchant for the west coast variety and one of them armed with a particularly lethal 12 string Rickenbacker, get together? Wilson, an inveterate songwriter, had teamed up with Bennett writing songs together over Facetime and they decided that Poole, who has produced both of them in the past, was a perfect fit for the songs. So, roped in, Poole had a bunch of songs in his own grab bag which were added to the mix and he recorded the basic tracks in his home studio over a bunch of weekends. The result is this 11 song collection which, for several reasons (a trio, the name of the band, the album cover) has seen them being compared to Crosby Stills & Nash (and Young although there are only three of them) but we’d hazard that a more apt comparison is to The Travelling Wilburys, another talented bunch of blokes who kind of came about when George Harrison just wanted to make an album with “some of my mates.”
The Wilburys’ influence is evident from the opening rush of Soon Enough which has a sheer joie de vivre in its Tom Petty like power pop jangle but the band transcend any such comparison as the song powers on with references to Junior Parker’s Mystery Train and a blistering 12 string raga rock solo which blasts the song into the 5th Dimension. And so it goes throughout the album. It wears its heart on its sleeve pumping a rich stew of influences – Beatles, Kinks, CS&N, Byrds – throughout, but the whole is greater than the parts as the trio’s songs stand up well on their own two feet, there’s not one dud here and the musical architecture supporting them is just the icing on the cake.
It would take a hard heart not to appreciate the chiming beauty of Funny Guys with its backward guitars, Searchers like Merseybeat beat and Wilson’s soulful voice as he takes the song on a left field turn into outer space. Elsewhere they deliver some delicious low key delicacies draped in a mild psychedelic fuzz with The Thing That You Called Love approaching Gene Clark’s baroque folk rock melancholy and The Other Side of The Sky recalling Lennon circa 1970 while Hide Behind a Smile goes further back quoting The Beatles’ In My Life on guitar towards the end. Meanwhile there’s a nod to The Kinks’ unique take on whimsical psychedelia on Wilson General Store.
The band do lean towards the west coast on several numbers. Ask Me Anything weighs in with a chunky riff and lyrics redolent of the idealism of the late sixties with the guitar solo as tortured as anything Steve Stills came up with while the harmonies (as throughout the album) are classic. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the political assassination of MP Jo Cox, is an almost direct lift of Neil Young’s Ohio (a lift Poole readily admits to), his anger and dismay the equivalent of Young’s way back then leading to a fiery blast of disgust borne out with some ferocious guitar work. Finally there’s the closing Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), a song written by Poole after reading an article about refugees which was next to an article on the selfie phenomenon. The indignation at the absurdity and implied equivalence of disaster and life style choice burns brightly here as the band wig out on this lengthy outing with the spirit of David Crosby hovering close by. Imbued with the apocalyptic vision of Wooden Ships and bolstered by the broiling guitar broth and mantras which informed Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, it’s a monumental song and one which the band apparently turned into a 15 minute epic on their run of shows in London the other week.
Despite the plethora of names above, Bennett Wilson Poole rise above their antecedents. The album talks to today as much as it talks to the past and the band are to be congratulated for such an endeavour. A certain contender for album of the year.