What does it sound like?:
Steve Ellis looks pleased with himself on the cover of his latest LP and justifiably so. Boom! Bang! Twang! is a warm, gritty soulful album that gladdens the heart and pricks at the tear ducts.
Ellis had his moment in the sun fifty years ago. He was the lead singer in Love Affair whose sales of singles in 1968 was second only to The Beatles. Their number one was Everlasting Love. A year later, he set out on a solo career. He didn’t get far. He put together a couple of bands in the seventies, Ellis and Widowmaker, but by the late seventies, he’d retired from the music business and become a docker. A terrible accident at work resulted in him spending most of the eighties learning to walk again. By the turn of the century, he was touring in a mod-related sixties revival package. He even sang lead for Amen Corner. Tributes to his old sparring partner, Steve Marriott led to a connection to Paul Weller.
Boom! Bang! Twang! was recorded in Weller’s Blackbarn studio and uses mainly musicians associated with him. It is effectively a joint production between Ellis and Weller. The eleven songs are a mixture of judicious covers and some stonking originals. All sound thoroughly modern, yet rooted in that blue-eyed soul style of the late sixties of which Ellis was a part. The band are superb, especially the rhythm section. It certainly has the immediacy of a group recording the tracks together and adding some overdubs later. Paul Weller, Mike D’Abo, Kev Wallbank of Dream Foundry and Cow make telling contributions but it’s Andy Croft and Ben Gordelier of The Moons who push Boom! Bang! Twang! into the category of a wonderful record. Their feel for these songs is perfect. It sounds as though they all had fun recording it.
Three of the covers, Tim Hardin’s Black Sheep Boy, Harsh Reality’s Tobacco Ash Sunday and William Bell’s I Forgot To Be Your Lover, have all been handled by Weller before. Ellis adds layers of soulful expression well beyond Weller’s capabilities as a vocalist. Jimmy Cliff’s Sitting In Limbo is a step outside of their comfort zone but is funked up very nicely and works surprisingly well. Collectively, they convert Gerry Marsden’s Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying into a deep soul classic. The originals are all outstanding, beautifully written and tightly arranged. Lonely No More is an uplifting Northern Soul stomp. Forever is a soaring love pop song. Cry Me A River is gritty R&B at its finest. Soul Trek (Holy Blue) is boosted by a John Schroeder string arrangement. Glory Bound showcases Ellis’s glorious voice, backed by just a piano and gospel hums. The closer, Oh Death, is spooky and psychedelic. The quality of these songs often surpass the classics they cover.
The final word is to laud Steve Ellis’s voice. As a teenager, he had the lung capacity of a great bear and a heart to match. Fifty years of trials and tribulations later, it has matured into a poised, expressive and poignant instrument, without losing an ounce of its power. He knows how to delve into a song’s emotional core and present it to listener as a precious gift.
Boom! Bang! Twang! speaks of recovery, a home coming, redemption or a return after being away for too long. The world needs Steve Ellis to give us solace in the face of uncertainty. Welcome back.
What does it all *mean*?
Steve Ellis has just released his best album. He couldn’t have done it without Paul Weller whose support is admirable, especially as he makes sure Ellis takes all the garlands. It also proves that Paul Weller can still write tight, melodic songs with bite. There’s hope for his next album yet.
Goes well with…
A weary heart, for it won’t remain weary for long.
Might suit people who like…
Blue-eyed sixties soul, R&B in the old-fashioned sense, Steve Marriott, Steve Winwood, great group playing, a voice to die for, Paul Weller at his best. Besides, how can The Afterword resist album featuring Twang!