Edsel Records [Release date 27.04.15]
Having released all four Cast albums in ‘deluxe’ format, Edsel have now turned to the solo work of The La’s and Cast frontman John Power. The Complete Sessions brigdes his 3 releases between 2003 and 2008, and brings the story up to date with a 4th disc featuring seven acoustic tracks recorded in December 2014 – The Mariner Sessions, unreleased demos and a BBC session. The box set is completed by a DVD featuring the recording of the Mariner sessions and extended interviews, and 32 page booklet (neither made available for review).
Power came to prominence in the La’s, a Liverpool band best known for their hit single ‘There She Goes’. After 5 years in the band, and just the one album release (their 1990 eponymous debut) Power called it a day in 1991, fed up with the lack of progression. He formed Cast who scored three top 10 Britpop albums between 1995 and 1999, but whose less successful Beetroot album (2001) led to the band’s split.
Despite offers, it would be 2 years before Power remerged with Happening For Love (2003). Produced by former La’s and Cast producer John Leckie, Power views the album, in hindsight, as representing ‘the last remnants of the Cast sound’. And it’s easy to see why – it’s an album steeped in 1960′s Beatles and Kinks acoustic based pop – influences Power shares with Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller, both of whom have trodden similar paths. No bonus tracks appear here, but ‘Small Farm’, ‘Mariner’ and ‘Happening For Love’ are compulsive listening. ****
Released in October 2006, Power’s second solo LP, Willow She Weeps was an entirely different barrel of fish – a stripped-back, rootsy, acoustic offering reaching back to the Dylan/Donovan era and ranging from folk to lonesome country-blues. It’s less immediate and bears many of the hallmarks of Jack White’s exploration of Americana – gutsy and authentic. ***
Stormbreaker (2008), the third and (to date) last of John Power’s three solo LPs, was billed as a solo record, but is actually The John Power Band. Marrying the skiffle sound of the Beatles to the blues, and fronted up by Power’s unmistakably scouse-inflected vocals it’s become hard to find. An extension of the rootsy, neo-Delta blues-rock sound of Willow She Weeps, it’s again a gritty, uncompromising release. ***1/2
The Mariner Sessions and Unreleased Demos will probably be of most interest here, as Power’s cult following will almost certainly already have the three previous releases in their possession. Intimate acoustic re-workings of Mariner and Small Farm demonstrate that a great song can always stand reinterpretation, the unreleased demos are if anything rough and will be welcomed by fans, and the Janice Long set from 2006 a nice inclusion. ****
As usual Edsel have done their usual comprehensive job. Power is, however, beyond his more commercial writing, something of an acquired taste, and for those who have followed him religiously it’s perhaps a little unfair they’re going to have to shell out for the box set just to get their hands on the The Mariner Sessions and Unreleased demos disc. But they’ll probably consider it cheap at the price.
Review by Pete Whalley
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