Knowing nothing about a band shields me from my own preconceptions. I picked this one to do because it sounded intriguing.
Have you ever been wound up tightly, or hungry, or thirsty and out of the blue, something that was exactly what you needed came along? A mate, a coffee (or similar bevvie), or a back rub (or similar)?
This album was that for me. The whole bananavirus thing had me pretty wound up, without realising it. More on that later.
Hailing from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, Phil Conalane (guitar/vocals) and Brian Mallon (lead/vocals) have been playing together for many years. It showed in the connectedness of the sound of this album.
“Goodbye to Yesterday” welcomed me with staunch drumming and down and dirty guitar playing. This was like being in a pub with a great band – intimate and immersive. The guitars complimented each other and the use of piano added real texture to the sound. It was pleasant and it made me thirsty… The piano featured again later and all instruments waded in and out, enriching the depth of the music. It’s a template that was used throughout the album to great effect. Killer guitar riffs and an excellent solo featured later in the track, as we are encouraged to “say goodbye to yesterday, say hello tomorrow”. That lyric grabbed my attention, as I wondered why they wrote it that way. I made peace with it.
“All Wired Wrong” began the connection with no mucking around, starting with a robust sound. It featured clever writing about the intricacies of life and disconnection. Comfortable, yet compelling, guitar work featured throughout. This was a catchy track, with harmonies that gelled beautifully.
“Soul Revolutionaries” created some unrest with an increase in pace, with clever percussion suggesting a coup at any moment… This track was wonderfully constructed, with a compellingly positive undertone. These are songs of hope in a time where they are certainly needed. High intensity guitar work, where lead and rhythm meshed brilliantly were also a feature of this track.
“Tattooed and Blonde” – with a title like that my preconceptions were well and truly working in overdrive. I got a feeling of trouble… Yep! It opened with the use of organ (so to speak) and a slower pace. It gave me the feelings of wasting time on a doomed relationship, where all the trust had gone. Married at First Sight, then… It was heartfelt, with a restrained and accessible sound. Not Married at First Sight, then.
“In Another Lifetime” began its life with elegant piano and it had me feeling as if Bon Jovi and Elton John had collaborated on it. Piano was again used to soar gently with the guitars and whilst it started slowly and with promise, it soon built into a power ballad that stood up against the best of them.
“Take It On The Chin” punched forth with a Southern swagger and a swampy guitar lick that would soothe the medulla oblongata of even the most ornery of Bobby Bouche’s alligators. There was lots to like here, with terrific vocal harmonies and a much thicker sound. However, it had an unhurried nature, a calm complexity. This was again deceptive, as occasional instrumental flourishes emerged to enrich the sound e.g. more obvious use of piano.
“The Healing (You and I)” salved my soul a little more with a shift in pace and sound, with things being a little more muted. It was a track about connecting with your partner and finding a way forward. The guitar work was again showcased, adding much to the emotional landscape.
“Bird in a Coalmine” had me wondering about the title… It is explained in the track, but you need to hear it to understand why. This track had an Irish folk feel with flute and violin enhancing the mood. It was a somber mood though, with lyrics like, “Now you’re gone, still I’m picking up the pieces again.” It’s challenging emotional nature served as an excellent counterpoint to the messages of hope in other tracks – like a great sweet and sour pork from your local Chinese food place.
“Just Like a Silhouette” shone brightly with guitar swagger and honky tonk piano. It had me feeling Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” in parts, but these were only flashes. It had me foot tapping and it was at this point I realised that I had surrendered some of my worries about the bananavirus to this album. Wow…
“She Gets Me High” – the title had me intrigued. It opened with simple guitar and soulful vocals. We all have a person who makes us feel this way – that when we are with them, we are different – better, happier, more complete. It’s a track that had me appreciating my beautiful (and long suffering) wife. Like all great relationships, this track started calmly and strongly, but built in intensity and depth.
“Atlanta Smile” open with an organ, then the guitars joined the party. It was a faster-paced track and it used the approach often used across this album – a strong template that is repeated through the track, which is then elegantly elaborated upon at the appropriate moments. As the end of this album, it left me well satisfied – upbeat and positive.
At which point I immediately played the album again.
The musicianship on this album is deceptively competent – it sounds simple, but this belies the cleverness of it. As an album, it’s cool, calm and soothing, but often blows your mind. I recommend that you play it from start to finish for your first listen.
It sounds a lot like a lot of bands – Elton John, George Thorogood, Bon Jovi and the band from the movie “The Commitments”. It reminded me of many things, without stealing from them. This was a plus, because whilst it felt like some of the music I knew, it still stood on its own.
There is something compelling about songs of hope in a time where they are truly needed. This was chicken soup for my soul, despite its occasional heartbreaking subject matter. Like I said above, these moments complimented each other deliciously.
Assessing this work was a little tricky, as it’s not my usual genre. What I could assesses was it’s impact on me. It allowed me to get lost for a while, putting the bananavirus away for a while. I surrendered myself, slowly, exquisitely, to the honest, unpretentious escapism that this album provided.
Take a look at the cover. This is exactly what this album feels like – driving an old muscle car at sunset along a beautiful country road, reflecting on the past, living in the moment and looking towards the future: with hope.