Wilson - Old School, New Rules

by Jeff Penczak Rating:8 Release Date:2016-01-25

Boasting one of the cleverest booklets in recent memory, the debut full length from this Dorset quartet features an 'exercise book' housing the song lyrics, quizzes to test your study skills (sample question: “Geography Homework: What is the highest house number in Britain?”), and a faux yearbook of 'Old Wilsonians'! Oh, and the tunes are pretty ace, too.

Founding singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Wilson has been performing for nearly 25 years, formerly with The Little Green Men in the late 80s, on up through several solo albums in the past decade. (And he’s politely put up with this putz of a reviewer who on more than one occasion has confused him with the chap from Porcupine Tree!) He also spends some time in ex-Pretenders’ guitarist Robbie McIntosh’s band – Robbie lends a hand throughout. The lineup is rounded up by keyboardist Chris Rickard, bassist (and head(ge) hog) Simon Felton (also of Garfield’s Birthday), and drummer Tim Wheeler.

     Opener ‘Long Road’ is a run-jump-skip-along jollity that’ll put a smile on your face and a skip in your step that will last throughout the album. Think America-meets-The Beach Boys, toss in a fab sax solo from Tom Bruton, and we’re off and running. Wilson’s honeysuckle vocals trip the light fandango on the tale of the ‘Pretty Girl In A Small Town’, a tearjerker about a broken affair with the local sweetheart who ends up in the bottom of a bottle. Graham Parker tosses songs like this off with uncommon regularity, and Wilson’s little heartbreaker shares the master’s perfect touch for couching a tragic tale in a heart-tugging melody. Ace stuff!

     I love the soft shoe shufflin’ beat of the acoustic ditty ‘Silver Lining’ – it sounds like a train chugging down the tracks with a bunch of lonesome hoboes hanging on for dear life. Great harmonies, too, a sparkling strongpoint of everything here. America rear their lovely talents once again on the laidback toetapper, ‘Waiting For Your Turn’, which should also please fans of Paul Weller’s solo career. I just can’t get enough of the lazy sunny, Sunday afternoon vibe expressed throughout. It’s such a pleasure to be able to just sit back and smile and nod along to strong tunes, tight musicianship, pleasant vocals, affectionate harmonies, stately-but-understated solos...it’s got it all.

     There’s also some smooth jazz for all you hipsters and lounge lizzies (‘The Moment You Walked By’), a little funky Hall & Oates-styled huggin’ ‘n kissin’ (‘You’re The One’), and although ‘Hazard On The Road’ is a tad too long for its own good (that middle eight feels more like a middle 16!), there’s no denying the tasty guitar solo from McIntosh and subsequent jam session is (almost) worth sitting through the whole thing to capture what you missed if you dosed off in the middle! The variety continues with the Nick Lowe-styled weepy blues of ‘Steelmen’ and we wrap up and head out to recess with the late night piano lullaby, ‘Peace of Mind’. Good on ya, lads. This is a keeper. Class dismissed!

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