record reviewsseptember 2019


Swimming In Thunderstorms (So Real)


John Watts having resurrected the band name and released This Is My Universe and Building Bridges in 2015 and 2017, respectively, this now celebrates the 40th anniversary of the politically-edged outfit that first found success back in 1979 with the likes of Remember Russia and The Worker, releasing the albums Word Salad and Going Deaf For A Living before Watts, a graduate in clinical psychology, went solo in 1982.

His political concerns remain intact here on numbers such as the dynamic rhythmically pulsing opener Big Wide World, in which a homeless soldier tries to reclaim his life (opening with the line “Sometimes I drink to get happy/Sometimes I drink for my soul”), his story revisited with a happy ending Christmas-themed Cardboard Street with its strings and brass,the self-explanatory titled and somewhat Jam-reminiscent The Islamic American, the true story of Syrian refugees who found themselves reluctantly (and unwantedly) dumped in Texas, the menacing Roger Watersish groove of the institutionalised deceptions addressed in Stamp It Out (about “Lying in the name of the Lord”), and the reggae lope Stolen about the difficulty today’s young generation face in making a life for themselves (“We have to go to town. And bring the system down”).

There’s love songs too, though, the best of which come with the marching beat 60s-flavoured Love Train Drama, the snapshot observation Half Naked Girl On The Windowsill, the cascading chords of Films With Happy Endings, the organ-backed ballad Right Now and, featuring wave samples, the big building title track itself.

Throw in the Caribbean-coloured funkiness of Prime and the melancholic, brass-tinged piano ballad No Bohemia (which may well also link to the ex-soldier), and this is his best work in years, it’s about time he got the wider recognition and audiences he deserves. Mike Davies


Bully Pulpit (Must Have Music/CRS)


Hailing from a farm in the Oklahoma dustbowl, Deck has been outsourced as a factory worker by a corporation, defeated in an election running for Oklahoma State House of Representatives and fired from playing music in church (in the middle of recording his first album), all of which would seem to be punchy Americana’s gain as he melds country and gospel across eleven tracks, delivered in a deep, throaty vocal with a band that includes Gabe Pearson from Turnpike Troubadors and legendary fiddle player Byron Berline.

It’s rousing gospel exhortation that sets the ball rolling on I Don’t Know What You Came To Do , slowing it down for the bluesier organ groove of Money Back, Chanda Graham and Myra Beasley again providing the soulful back-ups, those influences also percolating the slow R&B prowl of In The Name, the stomping True Believer, bluesy sway There’s A Leak In This Old Building and the closing Over And Over which calls Percy Sledge to mind.

On the country side, Make Your Mama Proud features Berline, Tulsa Sound is a melancholic slow waltz about blue collar hard scrabble lives while, summoning Smiley Lewis to mind, Great American Breakdown pokes around under the skin of the darker side of rural America’s Great American Dream. “We’re coming in hot”, he sings, you’d do well to warm yourself in his fire. Mike Davies 2020