We wanted to kick off the New Year with a bang and what better way to do so than with the turbo charged bass and 12 string blizzard intro to Set Me Free From This Lost Highway, the opening song on Starry Eyed & Laughing’s long awaited third album. Initially fuelled by The Byrds’ Eight Miles High, the song soars mightily and then incorporates CSN like harmonies alongside Hugh Masakela like trumpet sounds and stinging sitar like guitars. It’s bang on as it revitalises these treasured sounds from the past. Tony Poole, the Rickenbacker wizard, hauls the song into the present day with pointed lyrics which rail against that disgraced human anus who still believes he is the President of the USA.
Starry Eyed & Laughing’s last album release was in 1975 and they have been consigned to “lost legend” status for a long while. While guitarist Poole has kept the flame alive via a judicious selection of reissues and occasional low-key appearances with Iain Whitmore, bassist in the best-known line up of the band, the pair resolved to record a new album some years back. But then, stuff happens. Poole was laid low with a chronic illness for a time before getting a bravura second wind as one third of the excellent Bennett Wilson Poole. Revitalised, he and Whitmore set to the task but then Coronavirus bit. As we said, stuff happens. Nevertheless, the duo persevered and the result is this brilliant reclamation of jangled sixties rock, all dressed up for a new frontier as it were, post Trump, post illness, post Corona hopefully, as they fully intend to play these songs live at some point.
Starry Eyed And Laughing were always in thrall to The Byrds and CSN, no bad thing of course, especially if you can leap from that launch pad to deliver fine goods of your own. Their first two albums did that and Bells Of Lightning does it in spades. The influences are there and, for this listener, they amplify the joy of listening. Aside from the obvious nod to Eight Miles High in the opening song (alongside a less obvious nod to Going Down, the first song on their own first album) and the gorgeous Crosby inspired psychedelia of All Things Lost, there’s a trickle of memories for those who do remember those halcyon days throughout. Whitmore’s Come Home and You Feel Like Home have that winsome Topanga Canyon wind in their hair while Poole’s Stranger In My Time is quite timeless given that listening to it is somewhat akin to getting a shot of adrenaline straight into the memory muscle.
At the core of the album there’s a trio of songs which allude to Starry Eyed And Laughing’s ill-fated trip to the States. Dreamyard Angels opens with a cheeky nod to Simon and Garfunkel’s America before Poole offers us his tour diary in his best McGuinn style while delivering the most fully-fledged blend of The Byrds on offer here- it’s a real blast. Three Days Running is a Bakersfield like country romp with Poole’s E bender adding pedal steel like licks while Faith, Hope And Charity is a total zinger with the guitars twisting and turning every which way but backwards. Aside from these star spangled and cosmic outings, there’s a delightful and reverential ode to the forgotten Byrd, Gene Clark. The Girl In A Gene Clark Song is self referential to the nth degree perhaps, but it has the appropriate blend of LA optimism and melancholic lyricism.
Bells Of Lightning may have been a long time coming and a long time in its recording but Poole and Whitmore have come up with quite a joyous and brilliant listen. It’s quite astounding that the pair of them can conjure such a full-blooded band sound and hats off to Tony Poole for his studio wizardry.
Bells Of Lightning is available on CD and download here and there will be a vinyl edition in the near future. For the full lowdown on the album, check out our interview with Tony Poole on Americana UK.