The Complete EP Collection
Engine Company Records
Being the man’s EPs thus far plus bonus tracks – and I readily admit that I have been drawn into this collection of tracks over the past few weeks. Expecting nothing and just wishing to give the songs a (ahem) fair hearing, I perceive a distinct London summer’s day feel to many of the cuts. Dad Paul of course did hang out with the great troubadour Donovan back in the day, singing uncredited background here and there on the Leitch recordings . Songs like ‘Sunny Goodge Street’ and indeed ‘Sunshine Superman’ showed a blend of folk-blues and the emergent psych-pop-rock of the day. It is perhaps an unconscious or unwitting reference point for at least some of these numbers
Apparently James Mccartney most admires artists who ring the changes and don’t make the same album or use the same sound over and over. This may explain the nod to Neil Young on ‘Old Man’ found here on the first disc of the two-cd set. However the main appeal of this bunch of songs is the originality on display, albeit or notwithstanding the evident ( to these ears) tinge of George Harrison from time to time. Not quite what you might expect, but J McC is clearly not aiming at duplicating father Paul’s works and good for him.
Produced by David Kahne and Paul McCartney, the songs have a rolling twinkle at times and a stark honesty at others. Over-produced or fussily arranged they are not. The guitar tones and timbres are alluring, a crisp execution frames the compositions. Unlike Sting and others, James gets the key spot on each time and never strains so that the lyrics become something to share rather than proclaim. That’s yer folk ambience at work. Almost no shouting or yelling, just the compositions delivered.
‘Angel’ has a sprightly trebley guitar bounce and plaintive vocal in a Stealers Wheel gone uptempo mode, catchy chorus and all ; whereas ‘Glisten’ has a distinctly Celtic vibe, at odds perhaps with its Sterling Sound NYC (!)mastering ( Greg Calbi ) though looking at the notes the song may well have been recorded at Abbey Road. The strings seep through enhancing the misty streams atmosphere.
‘My Friend’ is jauntier and a frankly puzzling lyric – hard to tell whether it’s a celebration of friendship or an expression of regret….
Next cut ‘Denial’ has a stern chordal cadence playing up the cyclic and hypnotic electro/acoustic guitar weave. It’s the closest his own songs get to that Neil Young intensity typified by the great Canadian’s ‘Love That Burns’. The Bo Diddley 6/8 beat is deployed for ‘New York City’, a romp through the cityscape complete with horn riffs. High key but he hits the dominants. James should pass this song to Lulu, it would suit her ! ‘Moonstar’ starts like a Pirates / Rockpile outtake – yeah it’s that good, a real rocker that sound a lot more English than a Yank shot at rock and roll. Weird bridge and middle eight but it (just about) works… so what the hell. The insistent guitar gets the toes tapping. Thus ends Disc One.
The highlights of Disc Two are opener ‘I Only Want To Be Alone’ which you would swear was a co-write by Richard Thompson and George Harrison, jaw-jutting verse delivery and an utterly gorgeous chorus set to those driving guitars. ‘Wings of a Lightest Weight’ doesn’t quite connect with this listener, a bit morose. The other-worldly ‘Else and Else But Dead’ is set to snappy harmonics but has a quasi-metal fuzz guitar passage for contrast. I couldn’t begin to guess what the words of this song signify but it’s the collection’s most original creation and haunting to boot so fair enough.
The piano-intro’d ‘Fallen Angel’ is a paean to love and joy but sounds a tad sad. Cries out for a female voice to make a duet, bet Kate Rusby would do it for nothing ! Set ender ‘Your True Love’ bows to Carl Perkins, who I once saw do a show backed by his sons.
This song isn’t copying his father stylistically but has much of Dad’s enthusiasm and musicality, surprise yourself by giving this album a listen
Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk