Glasgow’s Daniel Meade has made his reputation on the back of a series of impressive albums which reached into the hinterlands of American folk, country and rockabilly aided and abetted by names such as Old Crow Medicine Show and Diana Jones. When Was The Last Time is a different kettle of fish in many respects however as Meade delivers a set of songs that positively explode from the speakers with a full bodied rock sound full of clangourous guitars and driving rhythms. He’s been on tour for a while with Ocean Colour Scene (playing keyboards) and perhaps some of their stadium filling sounds have seeped into his soul while some folk will remember his days as the jangle meister guitar player (on Rickenbacker even) in The Ronelles.
The genesis of the album was in a series of letters written by Meade to himself when he was going through a period of self evaluation in an attempt to ward off episodes of anxiety and depression, a self help therapy of sorts which allows the writer to reflect on their self beliefs and sometimes distorted image of themselves. Here Meade went one step further and decided to transform these letters into song, their therapeutic value to be expressed with a sense of positivity and hope, as he says about the album, “I felt the arrangements and production had to capture this same positive and hopeful feeling, so we went for big and driving for the most part.” Delving into the album there’s still a sense of darkness here but Meade beats it around the head with a big stick and some major chords, coming up with this fairly triumphant epiphany, the healing power of crashing guitars and letting it all hang out.
The album opens with an almost Townshend like clutter of acoustic guitar slashes and electric power chords on As Good As It Gets, a song which reflects on pill addled days and declares that clarity is the better option. It’s a chiming declaration of independence with a glorious outro. Nothing Really Matters continues in a similar vein with the guitars pummelling along as Meade delivers a fairly ferocious manifesto which whips along like Fleetwood Mac with teeth bared while Oh My My Oh sounds like a Travelin’ Wilburys’ offshoot with a deft nod to The Beatles in some of the vocal refrains. The Wilburys’ come to mind again on When Was The Last Time, another jangled rocker with harmonies so reminiscent of those wrinkled rockers who cast some light on some of their members final days. There’s a darker edge to If The Bombs Don’t Kill Us, another full blooded guitar fest which recalls the classic sound of bands such as The Comsat Angels and The Sound, an apocalypse draped in reverbed sounds.
It’s not all sturm und drang however as Meade comes across like an upbeat Gene Clark on the frenetic The Day The Clown Stopped Smiling which has a bar room piano and banjo underpinning its jauntiness along with a casually tossed in Sun Records like guitar solo midway through. Meanwhile there’s a slight return to the traditional American sounds which Meade has mastered with So Much For Sorrow harking back to chain gang work songs while How High We Fly is a classic song which lyrically recalls the emergent Loudon Wainwright in its yearning with its spare arrangement adding a sense of alienation. Meade ends the album with the folky lament of Don’t We All, a song which reaches across Celtic and American folk influences, one can imagine The Clancys, Phil Ochs or Pete Seeger singing this to a crowded pub audience with the audience joining in on the chorus in a reverential mood. In fact, and on closer listening, it’s not too absurd to suggest that Don’t We All would not be out of place on a Dylan album from around 1964. Whatever, it’s a grand end to a brave album.
When Was The Last Time is certainly not what one expected from Daniel Meade but it’s bold and adventurous. The fact that these spangled rock arrangements and intricate harmonies are all performed by the man himself with only Ross McFarlane (from the band Texas) playing on drums is quite astonishing and Meade certainly carries off this trip into rock’n’rolldom with some aplomb.