Album review: BEN POOLE – Live At The Royal Albert Hall

BEN POOLE – Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Manhaton [Release date 06.10.14]

Soulful voiced Ben Poole never strays too far from his soulful strengths on a live album full of feel, subtle dynamics and a passionate performance.

Originally recorded as a radio session for the Paul Jones BBC Radio 2 show and sympathetically produced by Paul Long,  Ben and his excellent band do enough to engage us with an array of funky soulful grooves and poised guitar playing.

Ben’s an emotive singer who pays attention to his range and while his diction could be clearer the complete package of voice, resonant guitar playing and a fine band makes sure that ‘Live At The Albert Hall’, is worthy of its lofty title.

For a guitarist whose debut EP was a fierce slab of rocking blues, this laid back album sends out a double message that he’s aiming for the middle ground and focusing on his vocals as much as his guitar playing.

His arrangements leave plenty of space to let the songs breathe, he phrases eloquently and the band to stretches out impressively when required.

They open with the funky ‘Let’s Go Upstairs’ featuring Sam Mason on keys and Amy Eftekhari on bv’s as the song heads into a fluid guitar solo

‘Love Nobody No More’ is a languid funky groove with an insistent keyboard motif and a gentle guitar figure that builds the solo from the ground up, to meander in and out of the groove before the band kicks in.

‘I Know (I’m Losing You)’ is the old Temptation song that was, popularized by Rod Stewart and contrary to what Ben suggests about rocking things up, settles for funky groove with a gnawing tone and big organ sweep.

His mighty sculpted solo is given due recognition by crowd’s applause, before he slips back into the groove with an extended workout backed by the poised rhythm section of drummer Craig Bacon and Mat Beable’s undulating bass. Ben finally cuts loose to drench the song in quavering, tremulous notes and a brief reprise of Purple’s ‘Black Night’ riff on the outro of the album highlight.

In contrast, a cover of ‘Mr Pitiful’ is a rather bland choice with sugary bv’s that adds little to the original. Coming at just over the half way point of the album, it suggests he’s happy to be in a white boy soul bag.  Unlike the rest of the album, the solo is something of a rescue job rather than a defining moment.

The self penned ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’ is far better, reverting to his favoured laid back feel. The arrangement suits both his vocals and imaginative solo, which builds up step by step with some deft interplay with keyboard player Sam Mason until they positively soar.

The major reservation about the album is the lack of tempo changes and variety. ‘Leave It On’ for example, is another slow build that fails to ignite, though given the enthusiastic audience response maybe I’m wrong?

Ben revels on the vocal part of Freddy King‘s strident blues ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ and teases out the melody with some delicate notes alongside Sam’s jazzy piano break to earn the band a fine reception.

‘Starting All Over Again’ is effectively a soulful melodic studio bonus track with a different band.  It’s still locked into the same tasteful radio friendly sweep that is glued together, as is the album as a whole, by Ben’s considerable presence. One for the future. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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