Purple Kittens – Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry

4 stars (out of 5)

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My first proper exposure to the work of Kimberley Rew was when I reviewed the retrospective, “Sunshine Walkers”, in 2020. There’s a theme running through that collection and “Purple Kittens” as well; a celebration of Englishness. Not the populist, flag-waving, “Vindaloo”-singing Englishness. Not that at all. It’s real ale at a riverside pub with the sounds of a skittle alley and maybe a Morris side performing. That kind of Englishness; the kind that’s celebrated by songwriters like Roy Harper and Ray Davies. So it’s appropriate that the album’s opener is “Penny the Ragman”.

The song’s a tribute to Kimberley’s late cousin, Penny, who, among other things, looked after the uniforms for a Morris side (a position known as Ragman) and was inspired by conversations at her wake. It’s a pretty good companion piece for The Kinks’ “The Village Green Preservation Society” as a celebration of a vanishing lifestyle. However, there’s a lot more to “Purple Kittens” than nostalgia; both Kimberley Rew (guitars and vocals) and partner Lee Cave-Berry (bass and vocals) are natural songwriters in the Nick Lowe mould, creating great songs out of eternal themes or the most mundane events and situations, even out of one repeated phrase.

Which is exactly what “Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream” does. Against a spiky, punky riff, the only lyrics are the title (apart from a slight culinary diversion into rum and raisin) sung by both Kimberley and Lee, and a bass solo. It’s just a bit of fun, but it’s done really well. “Black Ribbon” is more serious; it’s a rocking tribute to Roger Smith, of the Cambridge band Jack, who died of COVID last year. It was written by his two grandsons (aged six and eight) the ribbon of the title isn’t a mourning accessory, it refers to the band he wore round his Panama hat.

The Soft Boys cover, “Kingdom of Love”, is progressive and psychedelic with Kimberley/Lee harmonies in the chorus that evoke Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, while Lee’s “Unsatisfactory Cats” is a whimsical Kirsty MacColl-tinted exploration of cat behaviour that cat owners/servants will identify with – I certainly did. “Wrong Song” uses the musician’s lot as a metaphor for our daily lives; live performance is a one-off thing and any mistakes are part of your history. You only get one try and you can’t fix it or remix it. There’s also a reference running through the song to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”. Finally, “Daytime Night Time”, which closes the album, runs through the mundane cycle of life, from birth to death, in under five minutes (and that includes extended guitar riffing referencing Chuck Berry and Francis Rossi). It’s a joyous celebration of life and rock ‘n’ roll music.

“Purple Kittens” won’t be troubling the national album charts, but that won’t keep Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry awake at night. They make albums and play live for the sheer joy of it; that’s what they do and that in itself is worth celebrating. “Purple Kittens” is twelve songs celebrating lives, ways of life and sometimes just cats and ice cream, created and crafted with skill and joy, and a real love for this country. I’ll take that, thank you very much.

“Purple Kittens” is out now on KL Recording (KKL016).

Here’s the video for “Wrong Song”:

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