Note [Release date 10.09.15]
We may live in an age of instant downloads where music consumers immediately want to listen to their favourite tracks, but there’s still something to be said for a classy compilation album.
Paul Cox’s ‘Man Out Of Time’ is a perfect composite of his 35 year solo career. It’s a soul album full of vitality that showcases a consistently great vocalist on 15 well crafted arrangements, given real spark by over 20 musicians who warm to their task in the company of one of the UK’s most enduring soul singers.
Paul solo career stretches back to 1980 when he auditioned for the chart band Darts, before he eventually bedded in with the late, great guitarist Jon Slaughter. He toured the world, played the Montreux jazz and blues festival along with the likes of Ray Charles and Eric Clapton and reinvigorated Frankie Miller back catalogue with Frankie’s band, before he hitting the road again with his own all star combo The Proof.
No better time then to launch ‘Man Out Of Time’, an ironically titled album that showcases a versatile and talented soul singer who is just as happy signing rock as he is blues, soul and even jazz.
‘Man out Of Time’ refers to the hugely underrated soul singer dealt some poor cards by the shifting sands of musical fashion and who by rights should be a household name.
The album straddles all aspects of soul, funk blues rock on a mix of big band arrangements, ballads and rockers on 15 well sequenced tracks that bring a coherent purpose to the table. And it’s the way the ensemble contemporizes old school soul values that makes this album one of the best genre releases of 2015.
The album is built on the solid foundations of strong self penned songs, judiciously chosen covers and the enduring musical relations relationship shared by Paul with his co-writer, producer and keyboard player Roger Cotton.
So while the album opens with a cover of ‘Damn Your Eyes’ – a long time Cox stage favourite – it quickly moves into three Cotton compositions, of which the funky horn inflected ‘Heart of Stone’ is a natural vehicle for Cox’s soulful phrasing and Joanna Ramsay and Louise Kenney’s bv’s.
The portentous funky groove of ‘Big Change Is Gonna Come’ is evens better and is a notable album highlight that finds Paul’s vocal filling the track with real feel and presence.
In sharp contrast, ‘I Can’t Change’ is an old school soul ballad on which he revels as an interpretive singer of Cotton’s lyrics on a cool soulful arrangement
All the elements coalesce seamlessly from the lead vocal and bv’s to the cool organ fills, the subtle horn parts and a rock solid rhythm section that knows when to swing, groove and hold back.
Cox sparkles on ‘One Night Stand’ his own co-write with young French blues guitarist Charlie Fabert who adds steely licks over a tic-toc percussion and nuanced bv’s from Val Cowell and Mandy Bell on another exemplary arrangement.
The track also gives the middle of the album a notable lift, which is reinforced by the following ‘Weekend Blues Man’ a Hammond swept rocker given real bite by co-author and guitarist Mike Summerland.
A word too for the magnificent horn players who feature at different times, Nik Payne, Matt Winch, Sid Gauld, Martin Drover, Derek Nash and Tim Riggins, and who fill the arrangements with a mix of power and resonance.
Alan Glen adds brings another layer of sound via an unexpected blues harp over the pumping horns of ‘Weekend Blues Man’, while Roger Cotton switches to guitar on the riff driven John Hiatt penned rocker, ‘Paper Thin’.
It’s a great example of a well chosen cover that fits the album’s essential flow. Paul’s lived in vocal mirrors the hard driving guitar line on a booming horn arrangement with real punch.
In sharp contrast the Faber /Cox penned ‘Burning Flame’ is a gently nuanced soul ballad which again illustrates Cox’s versatility.
And just when you think the album has settled into a late night soul vein with a brace of ballads, we’re back in rock & roll mode with a cover of ‘That’s The Way I Feel’, with Cox in celebratory mode on a big band work out.
He rounds things off in the company of the afore mentioned backing vocalists Ramsay and Kenney on ‘Ain’t Gonna Be The First To Cry’ as Cotton again impresses on guitar, backed by the Al McLean and Steve Dixon rhythm section that has served Paul so well over most of his solo career.
‘Man Out Of Time’ confirms Paul Cox as a vocalist at the top of his game. He’s self evidently fired up by the sheer joy of fronting a great ensemble of players, who when they play the results might realize they’ve cut one of the best soul albums of the year. *****
Review of Pete Feenstra
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