Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
Aurora Records – 6 April 2018
A perennial conundrum in life questions whether the whole can ever be greater than the sum of the individual parts, and nowhere, perhaps, is this more evident than when musicians, already successful in other ventures, decide to come together and collaborate as a new group.
In this case, the individuals are Robin Bennett, (The Dreaming Spires, Goldrush, Saint Etienne), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World,) together with Tony Poole, more recently much sought after as a producer, but also famed as the electric twelve-string Rickenbacker maestro in the all-too-short-lived 1970’s outfit Starry Eyed and Laughing, (named after the first line of the last verse of Dylan‘s Chimes of Freedom), often monickered ‘The English Byrds‘, and who this reviewer remembers booking way back in 1975.
Thus Bennett Wilson Poole have a proven track record and arrive with a well-earned pedigree, and on the evidence of this, their eponymous, debut release, the potential quandary outlined above is knocked well-and-truly out of the ballpark.
This release is an assured, cohesive and above all, thoroughly accomplished musical delight of the highest quality.
The legacy of the distinctive sound of the Rickenbacker, often in conjunction with close three-part vocal harmonies, means that historical comparisons will inevitably be made, indeed the group themselves acknowledge influences from both the pop of the 1960s through to rock of the 70s and later.
So are we being presented with a modern-day Crosby Stills & Nash? (Which would be no mean tribute in my book.) In presenting the case for the Prosecution we have exhibit 1 – both groups comprise three singer-songwriting guitarists; exhibit 2 – three-word group names, i.e. the non-alphabetical, surnames of the members; exhibit 3 – both debut album covers have the members sat on a sofa but not in the order of the group name; exhibit 4 – extraordinarily fine music.
There is, however, much more to this release than such a simplistic, and potentially misleading, comparison with just one antecedent. Bennett Wilson Poole fairly teems with delicious melodies and glorious harmonies, with song-craft of the highest calibre that nods in the direction of many of the other cornerstones of this genre. Whilst memories of halcyon days of yore might surface, there is no slavish imitation here; this is genuine, original, dazzling music that succeeds on so many levels, not least by extending its reach to encompass and address current social themes.
The opening track, Soon Enough, was released as a single in February. Penned by Bennett, this is a jingly-jangly tune in the mould of Tom Petty or The Byrds which would not be out of place on a Travelling Wilburys release, indeed the accompanying video bears more than a passing resemblance to the latter’s End Of The Line. With each verse embracing alternating lead vocals from each band member, the song is further energised by the soaring three-part harmonies of the chorus and is a technique employed to further great effect on many of the tracks.
Contrast this then with Hide Behind A Smile, a soul-tinged Bennett-Wilson ballad which alludes to the serious issue of coping with anxiety and depression at a variety of levels, something with which many will relate to in some way, as all too often we hide behind the facade of a smile.
‘Sometimes I feel like I’m denying what’s inside
I’m foolish ‘cos my pride
I hide behind a smile – hide behind a smile’
The biographical tale which informs Wilson General Store, written by Robin, presents as a jaunty, cheerful and sunny evocation of Danny’s grandparents’ shop in Melbourne, Australia, before the dramatic change in mood of the next track merely emphasises the ability of the trio to write convincingly across subject matters.
Hate Won’t Win represents the more sombre side of the release. Written in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, this song of protest is credited to all three group members and previously appeared on YouTube, albeit with the now absent (Song For Jo Cox) in the title. From the opening bars, the song is redolent of the epic Neil Young protest composition, Ohio, relating to the 1970 Kent State Ohio shootings, and made famous by Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. Here, the song builds, over the harmonious, but defiant, call-to-arms of the chorus towards a climactic finale with the final, scintillating guitar solo evoking Young at his most coruscating, before the final notes bring this stunning track to a George Martin Beatles-like conclusion.
Whilst That Thing That You Called Love brings to mind the sort of psychedelia-infused tones associated with perhaps Poco or Buffalo Springfield, Find Your Own Truth, originally intended for a solo Robin album but here given the full CS&N harmony treatment, is a country-tinged delight the subject matter of which is explained in the song title.
‘You gotta find your own truth – you won’t find it under my roof
You gotta find your own way – you won’t see it every day’
The album closes with the monumental, Lifeboat (Take A Picture Of Yourself). At just shy of eight minutes, this track was inspired by Tony coming across a newspaper article on ‘selfies’ appearing next to a photo of refugee boat in the Mediterranean. This conflicting paradox, the basic exigency for survival against inherent selfishness, is plaintively explored in this moody piece which also features stunning solo electric guitar of almost unimaginable quality.
‘Is this the world that we’ve been living for?
Where is the love that we preach?
Man the lifeboat and mine the shore’
Bennett Wilson Poole is as pure a slab of joyous British (Australian) Americana as you could wish to hear and benefits from repeated listening, as, rather like a Russian doll, each play unerringly reveals some new delight.
Scoring a Spinal Tap-esque 11 on the ‘feel-good factor’ scale, this CD is destined to be a landmark release in the annals of the genre and is a nailed-on certainty to feature in end-of-year ‘Best of’ lists, whilst ‘In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you’ will also doubtless be the appropriate action taken by those who open their ears to this recording which is guaranteed to bring smiles to faces.
Pre-order it here https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/bennett-wilson-poole