You barely make it past the intro of the album’s opener, “Break Away”, before it hits you; Matt Andersen has a phenomenal voice. It’s a rich baritone from the same mould as the great Paul Carrack and it’s the perfect vehicle for this set of songs harking back to the glory days of Stax and Atlantic. Matt’s previous work has been filed under blues, but there’s no doubt at all that this is a soul album (with a few detours into reggae rhythms and a hint of seventies rock). The album has a lot in common with last year’s Southside Johnny classic “Soultime!” in that they’re both inspired by the glory days of sweet soul music; you can find little references to all sorts of artists and styles throughout the album, but it’s ultimately held together by that superb voice.
The album opens with the Hammond-led gentle reggae feel of “Break Away” which hints at “Graceland”-era Paul Simon and The Staples’ “Come Go with Me”, moves into the slow and subtle soul of “The Gift” with its beautiful cascading guitar before the title track throws a whole bunch of influences into the blender. “Honest Man” opens with a riff that’s not a million miles from “Crossroads”, develops with some Memphis Horns-style brass (including the trademark rasping baritone sax) and drops into a chorus with backing vocals which could have been inspired by Don Henley’s scathing “Dirty Laundry”.
So, you get the picture; the album pulls dozens of influences into the blend without ever sounding derivative. “All the Way”, with its hint of a reggae beat, languorous vocal and wah-wah guitar has a hint of seventies Clapton, “Last Surrender” has echoes of Sam Cooke and “Who Are You Listening To?” suggests late seventies Bob Seger, both musically and lyrically. It’s a celebration of some of the classic stylings from our musical history combined with a bunch of well-constructed contemporary songs.
There are a few political and social references, but the songs cover a variety of lyrical themes including love and friendship. “I’m Giving In” is a haunting piano ballad with an intimate, late night vocal while the album’s closer, “One Good Song”, describes the things that a songwriter would suffer to create the one song that makes an audience stop and listen. It’s fair to say that he’s done that a couple of times on this album with the title track and “Last Surrender”. “Honest Man” is a joyous piece of work placing a superb soul voice in settings which demonstrate its quality to perfect effect.
“Honest Man” is released on True North Records (TND612) on April 1st.
Is it Summer yet? No, another few weeks to go yet; I’m not sure if I can hold out that long. How about if we find the most summery song and video we can and try to push things along a bit. OK, here we go.
The band Cosby is from Richmond, Virginia. It consists of brothers Chip and Chris Cosby and drummer Mike Levinson and the sound is influenced by the synth and guitar bands of the eighties; imagine Duran Duran in a soundclash with Spandau Ballet and Wham and you won’t be far wide of the mark. The band has a new EP (“Summer Gold”) out soon and the lead song is “Overboard”. The song combines the manic energy of Jane Weidlin’s “Rush Hour” with Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” vocal delivery and has what it takes to become a summer classic. All we need is the weather to make it work.
The video looks like a three dollar remake of Wham’s “Club Tropicana” replacing the cocktails with JD and using deliberately cheesy and low-rent effects with seventies beach clips, but it works because it’s obvious that no-one’s taking it seriously. Anyway, have a look and make your own mind up:
So, what’s this all about then? John Fogerty, former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman and highly respected solo artist has decided to revisit some of his back catalogue with a few collaborators and throw in a brace of new songs for good measure. It’s not a new idea and it can be either a cynical attempt to cash in on a few good, old songs or a chance to invite fellow musicians to put their stamp on your songs. I’m really pleased to say that “Wrote a Song for Everyone” is a fascinating look at the heritage of one of the great rock songwriters and performers. You have to approach this with an open mind; some of the songs, in their original incarnations, were massive teenage favourites of mine through happy and sad times but there are some radically different interpretations here. The conventional view is that Eagles popularised the country-rock genre, but you could make the same case for Creedence if you take your country influences from New Orleans rather than Bakersfield; just a thought.
The album opens with “Fortunate Son”, which is amped-up by the Foo Fighters to a full-on rocker (no surprise there) before Keith Urban delivers a banjo-led country-rock version of “Almost Saturday Night” which takes the song back to its lyrical roots and “Lodi” (probably my favourite John Fogerty song) gets the Status Quo “Rocking All Over the World” treatment with John’s two sons Shane and Tyler Fogerty. Incidentally, this is the only collaboration that Fogerty arranged, pulling rank with his two sons when he didn’t like their country-rock arrangement. “Mystic Highway” is one of the new songs and breaks down into 3 sections, the main song, an instrumental section and an a capella breakdown with a strong feel of the Doobie Brothers “Black Water”. “Wrote a Song for Everyone” features a Miranda Lambert vocal and some exceptional guitar work from Tom Morello; so far so good.
The Zac Brown Band reworking of “Bad Moon Rising” in a Cajun style works less well for me, losing the brooding menace of the original version. “Long as I can See the Light” with My Morning Jacket sticks fairly close to the original, retaining the organ riff which characterises that version and is followed by Kid Rock’s take on “Born on the Bayou”. Apparently it’s now a violation of several federal statutes to record a collaboration album without including a Kid Rock track. The album’s second new song “Train of Fools” follows, exploring similar territory to Springsteen’s recent “Land of Hope and Dreams”. It’s obvious that John Fogerty can still write a good song and the new songs sit very comfortably alongside his earlier work on this album.
“Someday Never Comes” with Dawes has Taylor Goldsmith singing the verses about the things we tell kids (and adults) to shut them up while Fogerty takes the choruses as the gruff old bad guy who tells us that it’s all lies. Bob Seger delivers the Woodstock song “Who’ll Stop the Rain” very much in the style of his 1976 classic “Night Moves”, which works very well. If any singles are to be released from the album, “Hot Rod Heart” should be top of the list. It’s a great driving song (maybe it’s time we had an alternative to the lazy radio programming of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” every time the sun shines for more than five minutes) and the last couple of minutes consists of Fogerty and Brad Paisley trading superb guitar solos and generally having a good time. I bet Paddy McAloon wouldn’t like it.
“Have You Ever Seen the Rain” with Alan Jackson works perfectly with a pure country arrangement with banjo, fiddle and steel guitar filling out the sound and leads us into the last track of the album. I’ve heard many versions of “Proud Mary”, but nothing quite like this. The first verse and chorus are pure gospel with Jennifer Hudson backed by a gospel choir and the wonderful Allen Toussaint before speeding up to a Cajun boogie with the full band and accordion and horns for good measure. I used to think the Ike & Tina Turner version was over the top, but they only used one kitchen sink and I think there’s about three here. It’s a glorious way to end a great album.
John Fogerty has survived in the music business for a long time with all of the usual peaks and troughs that anyone big in the sixties and seventies went through including the publishing disputes, particularly the publishing disputes. The reason he’s still around is that he loves what he does and he’s very good at it. “Wrote a Song for Everyone” is a very, very good album.
Out now on Vanguard (88765487152).