Repertoire [Release date 24.06.13]
Pete Brown and Phil’s Ryan’s Psoulchedelia is a misleading name for a band whose music only occasionally broaches soul and is not remotely psychedelic. The punned title ‘Perils of Wisdom’ turns out to be an oblique reference to some of Brown’s lyrical word plays, voiced over sophisticated jazzy arrangements of songs that often don’t always have the substance to carry them
And that’s a shame because the former Cream lyricist Pete Brown and his long time collaborator Phil Ryan (Piblokoto/Man/Neutrons) should be capable of something better. The album certainly doesn’t fall short of the mark thorough a lack of planning as a formidable line-up including Annie Whitehead, John McKenzie Jeff Allen and Lee Goodall etc, all contribute fully, while Helen Hardy and Rietta Austin colour the songs with a mix of double lines and bv’s.
The horn section of trombonist Annie Whitehead and sax player Lee Goodall revel in Phil Ryan’s horn parts and the band shows that it is can hit a groove when the moment arises. But they only reveal glimpses of their potential on album that sticks too rigidly to the arrangements. In fact it’s not until the closing track ‘Go Down Fighting’ that the band finally ignites. Pete sings: ‘Though our bodies feel the pain, We are only growing, And when we come back again, We’ll be really blowing’, and blowing is exactly what the band does on a scintillating final track that makes the rest of the album sound tentative and claustrophobic in comparison
The short comings ‘Perils of Wisdom’ are evident on the opening two tracks of which ‘No Time Left For The Good Times’ doesn’t have a strong enough hook to make it memorable, while the lyrics hardly allude to the political ire mentioned by Pete in the album’s liner notes.
Then there’s the lyrically eclectic, Steely Dan influenced, ‘With A Girl Like You I Can Clean Up The City’ – Dan arrangements permeate much of this album – on which Pete’s humour does occasionally hit the spot: ‘Somehow the forces of good, have got to get it together to free up the ‘hood, No matter how much it costs, The council makes up the loss’. The band’s formidable reggae groove keeps the song on track even when the imagery moves into the realms of ‘magma spray’
But there’s better to come on the jazzy, brushed stokes of ‘Ewa’s Blues’. Phil Ryan’s piano playing and his horn arrangements are a joy, while Pete rarely surpasses his expressive phrasing on this song. He actually sounds relaxed on a blues that is more suited to his range.
‘For You’ evokes early Hall & Oates and is the closest the band gets to soul with an integral horn part with more Steely Dan pretensions, but despite an uplifting organ and horn break, it’s a ultimately a song in search of a better arrangement as its simply too dirgy.
‘How About It?’ is a stark relationship song with lyrics about the search for commitment, over more jazzy cool that veers too close to MOR for comfort. And while ‘Motormother’ ups the tempo it’s dogged by hackneyed Freudian symbolism. In truth Pete’s sexual imagery on the outro is recycled school level psychology, and sounds as if he’s only just made the connection.
Similarly, his materialist theme on the dirgy ‘Don’t Want Nothing Old In My Life’ only occasionally hits the spot, thus: ‘Jacuzzi pools and power tools, Diamonds jewels and all that’s cool, Just can’t stand nothing old’, before he concludes: ‘except my wife’. The lyrics almost divert our attention away from a subtle keyboard led groove as Pete outlines a check list of desirables over a back drop of bv’s and subtle horn parts worthy of a better song.
‘The Bait’ is similar lyrical fare but has a great closing couplet: ‘They sure make up with imagination, What they lack in sophistication, Look at that babe over there, Don’t go near, beware beware’. It benefits from a better up tempo arrangement, though the guitar is mixed too far back and just when the band kicks in Pete can be heard to say ‘That’s it’, presumably meaning his part is done.
It’s a good example of the main problem with this album, which is that in an attempt to be tasteful and sophisticated, too many of the songs sound claustrophobic and tentative. That said, the horns are exempt from that criticism as they all but dominate, suggesting Phil and Pete came to the studio with a bigger picture in mind, without quite having the songs.
‘Nobody Knows’ comes close to what you imagine they are trying to achieve with a faux gospel feel, a hypnotic groove on a slow burning song with a great trombone solo and a cool outro. In the context of a brighter album it would surely have a bigger impact.
Maybe its Pete sense of the surreal – as evidenced by ‘With A Girl Like You I Could Clean Up The City’ and ‘Living In The Sleaze System’ – featuring a subtle stop-time pause before the chorus kicks in – that stands between him and his objective.
‘Perils of Wisdom’ isn’t quite the jazz album the duo probably set out to make. At its best the cool horns and intricate keyboard parts are everything you would wish for from a fusion influenced album. But the songs don’t let the band breathe enough and lack the kind of memorable hooks to lever the listener in. A suitable case for an outside producer perhaps? ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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