‘Leo’ – Pete Gow

5 stars (out of 5)

0

‘Leo’ is the third instalment in the ongoing collaboration between songwriter Pete Gow and multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett. The previous two albums ‘Here There’s No Sirens’ and ‘The Fragile Line’ have a signature sound that features Joe’s string arrangements; on this album, he’s moved further back into the orchestra to add some horns to the mix, creating a wider palette and a much punchier sound to frame Pete’s (mostly) personal songs. The songs are given a widescreen treatment that nods in the direction of “Born to Run”-era Springsteen, but there are a few other comparisons that maybe aren’t so obvious.

In 1978, a Scottish songwriter living in London released an album featuring a few songs about working in the music business and the characters touching it at tangents that you meet in bars and clubs. ‘City to City’ was a classic Gerry Rafferty album, marrying classic songwriting with interesting arrangements and “Where Would We Be Going” is in the same mould, creating perfect settings for the emotional tug of Pete’s soulful vocals.

The album’s eight songs (‘Where Else Would Be Going?’ tops and tails the album in an upbeat and then a more reflective version) all reward repeated listens. There’s a lot to recommend and to write about every song, but I’ll concentrate on three that cover most of the bases.

‘Side III of London Calling’ is a seedy story of a musician trying to get wired and laid after the gig’s over, set against a mid-tempo groove that nods in the direction of The E Street Band. It’s authentic and gritty and compares the perfection of the woman being pursued to, guess what, ‘Side III of London Calling’. The lyrics keep your attention as wait to hear the outcome and the tune is an absolute earworm. There’s a hint of Elvis Costello/Sam & Dave with a falling down reference and a classic turnaround in the final chorus when the central character describes himself as “just about as welcome as Side V of Sandinista”. It’s great fun.

‘Leonard’s Bar’ is another beast entirely; it’s the centrepiece of the album, it clocks in at over seven minutes and it’s not autobiographical unless Pete has a secret career as an armed robber that he’s not telling us about. It’s difficult to resist the comparison with The Boss’s ‘Meeting Across the River’ as the story unwinds of the career petty criminal coaxed into one last job. The song weaves its way through tempo changes as it builds to the heist section before closing out with The Leo Horns.

‘The City is a Symphony’ is a Joe Bennett co-write that uses the full dynamic range offered by a rock band plus horns and strings as a setting for a lyric that intertwines the pathos of the present with a flashback to a time with a former lover. Joe’s arrangement blends all of the instrumental elements perfectly to create a symphony in miniature that blends seamlessly into the final song, the reflective version of ‘Where Else Would We Be Going?’.

‘Leo’ is a marvellous combination of the important elements of songwriting and production, pulling in ideas from all over the place, including musical references from The Clash to Clapton to create an album with earworms aplenty and a wide range of musical textures that emphasise the power of the lyrics. I’ve not reviewed a better album this year.

‘Leo’ is released on Friday April 22nd on Clubhouse Records.

Here’s the album’s opening single ‘Where Else Would We Be Going?’:

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