Released By: PledgeMusic
Release Date: 19th February 2016.
Genre: Stripped back Punk
WENDY JAMES – VOCALS/RHYTHM GUITAR/KEYS & PIANO
LENNY KAYE – RHYTHM/LEAD GUITAR (Patti Smith/Nuggets)
GLEN MATLOCK – BASS (Sex Pistols)
JAMES SCLAVUNOS – DRUMS (Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds)
JAMES WILLIAMSON – GUITAR & BASS. Track 12 (The Stooges)
STEVE MACKAY – BARITONE SAX. Track 13 (The Stooges)
1 PALOMA’S DOWNS
2 INDIGENT BLUES
3 KING RAT
4 LOVE FROM THE 9TH
5 BAD INTENTIONS AND A BIT OF CRUELTY
6 YOU’RE A DIRTBOMB, LESTER
7 SCREAMIN’ BACK WASHINGTON
8 WHY OH WHY DO YOU HURT ME STILL?
9 FAREWELL TO LOVE
10 COWBOY RHYTHM
11 SITUATION NORMAL AT SURFRIDER
12 YOU’RE SO GREAT
13 IT’S ALRIGHT MA
Subtle, sensual and stripped back. That could as easily refer to the album cover as well as the content on this Wendy James’ latest solo album.
The opening chord on the album’s first track, ‘Paloma’s Dreams’ immediately made me think of Dion and The Belmonts classic ‘Runaround Sue’ and that sense of 50’s Americana does pervade heavily throughout the album but works very well because it then mixes the influences that the supporting musicians bring to the table to deliver an album that is part punk, part rock n roll, part Americana but definitely 100% Wendy James.
With a voice that oozes punk and roll, even on the softer, more subtle vocal tracks, Wendy puts her own mark on every track without letting her co-conspirators overshadow her unique style. The line-up is worth mentioning at this point as it contains legendary musicians from both the punk and new wave eras. With Lenny Kaye (The Patti Smith Group) on guitar, Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) on bass, James Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) on drums, the assembled musicians have allowed Wendy to step back into the limelight with her punk roots firmly re-established.
Early favourite ‘King Rat’ further establishes the Patti Smith feel before ‘Love From The 9th’ rapidly returns us to the 1950s again. ‘Bad Intentions and a Bit of Cruelty’ bring dirty, scuzz / fuzz and buzz saw fuelled guitars into the mix but it’s worth noting that at no point in this track or the album as a whole does any of it become overbearing or attempt to drown out another musician or part of the song. That subtle blend and it’s a word I’ll keep using, makes the album accessible by almost anyone. Lyrically you may need to identify the right audience but aurally, each and every track can be the perfect accompaniment whatever your mood.
Those tracks with seemingly tougher messages and lyrics are still delivered with an air of finesse and ease and it’s hard to recall an artist with a voice who can sing so softly and sweetly yet at the sametime make you slightly fearful. I’d liken it to the moment in films where the female murder strokes the victims cheek, whispering so softly into their ear, reassuring them that all will be well before gently taking the knife and slicing the throat wide open. Beautiful but still slightly scary.
Jangly, jaunty and fun tracks also litter the album and often mask deeper lyrics but ‘Why Oh Why Do You Hurt Me Still’ is truly a bouncy little number and ‘Farewell To Love’ feels like one of those songs that the a capella bands would perform at the high school talent show. Confused? Perhaps but for whatever reason the songs work. Each one differs and yet still the collective has a natural feel to it. It’s an album Nick Cave would be proud to have made himself.
‘Cowboy Rhythm’ sitting tight towards the tail end of the album builds beautifully with a rapid fire drum roll ably supported by guitar licks that the Stray Cats would kill for. The added crashing piano keys give the track depth, volume and gravitas and as the drumming kicks back in as Wendy sings about how she’s got “blue eyed soul”, it could almost be the perfect end to the album.
‘Situation Normal At Surfrider’ closes out the original tracks with a silky seven minute meandering number before we are presented with ‘You’re So Great’ and ‘It’s Alright Ma’. Recorded by Wendy James and James Williamson (Iggy and The Stooges), Steve Mackay (Iggy and The Stooges), James Sclavunos (Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds) they’re covers of songs written by Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith (MC5/Sonic’s Rendezvous Band) and Bob Dylan respectively, reaffirming once and for all that this is James’ strongest output in a long time.
Find me a more authentic album this year if you can.
Written by: Adrian Hextall
Ratings: Adrian 8/10