Ron Pope – Work
Brooklyn Basement Records – 18 August 2017
If you’re looking for something to soothe away the day’s stress and ease you into the evening, then, initially, Atlanta-born Ron Pope may not seem to be your man. If, on the other hand, you want to get psyched up to go out and give the town a good lashing, well.
Now based in New York, Pope has released a dozen albums in the past ten years, ‘Work’, his thirteenth, was a conscious decision to recreate the music of any bar band worth their beer money, drawing on the experiences and people in his life from the age of thirteen.
It kicks down the door with the opening Bad For Your Health, a storming, horns-driven blast of R&B that tells of a run in with a frat boy in Panama city and a red-haired girl from Birmingham. Then it strides across the wreckage to get to the lurching soul of the self-explanatory Let’s Get Stoned that comes across like a meeting between The Band and The Stones mediated by a horn section. Then, with its insistent beat and tumbling melody line Can’t Stay Here draws on the blue collar pop sensibilities of both Buddy Holly and The Drifters.
Okay, so this is where I qualify the opening comment. Having worked up a lather of sweat, when Pope gets to the title track, he puts on the brake and unpacks the acoustic guitar for a sparse, whisperingly-sung Springsteenesque autobiographical number. A song about learning to work to live not just living to work and carving out who you are as he sings “I am who I am not who they said I would be.”
Recalling Kenny Rogers in its country colours and backed by banjo, The Last plays a familiar word play game with a line about the train of thought leaving the station and coming off the track on meeting the unobtainable girl with green eyes. Featuring female backing vocals, banjo and fiddle, Someday We’re All Gonna Die is another retro-flavoured country sway about inevitable mortality but, “God willing today ain’t the day so pour me a drink/ give me one song to sing, and I will be on my way.”
The tempo picks back up somewhat for another Springsteen-inclined number with the rim shot percussive rhythm of Partner In Crime, while he wheels in the saloon piano for Dancing Days, a refusing to grow old gracefully number that surely owes a considerable debt to The Faces’ Ooh La La.
It closes with two further reflective numbers. A duet with Molly Parden, The Weather is a beautifully sad fiddle and pedal steel adorned heartache that plays like a sort of post break-up sequel to A Drop In The Ocean. While, just voice and acoustic guitar, Stick Around leaves things on a hopeful affirmatory note of commitment as he raspingly sings “if we got everything we wanted, well we can just want something else.”
So, as it turns out, Pope is there for, as Kristofferson put it, both the goin’ up and the comin’ down. It’s one of my favourites of 2017; it should be one of yours too. Work on it.