Manhaton [Release date 01.04.16]
Overlooking his debut EP/CD, ‘Time Has Come’ is a significant third album for Ben Poole, who has transformed himself from a guitar slinger to an expressive soul balladeer, and on this album a song driven artist who mixes subtle textures with lingering hooks.
He always been a fiery player and passionate singer in search of a USP with which to make a splash, and this album provides him with plenty of ammunition to make his mark.
‘Time Has Come’ is a radical departure, in as much as it’s a slow burner on which his solos are an integral part of the song rather than the raison d’etre of the song itself. His relationship songs smoulder with intent – as on the opening ‘Lying To Me’ – which eventually delivers a suitable pay off with a searing wah wah inflected guitar and a substantial chorus.
Deep into the album, ‘Just When You Thought It Was Safe’ evokes the white boy soul of Johnny Lang, though it’s not quite delivered with the necessary passion to make the song resonate. It’s an example of both the strengths and occasional weakness of a very accessible album.
On the one hand he’s has taken a bold step towards the middle ground, relying on notably improved song craft and a confessionary vocal style while being guided by Wayne Proctor’s seamless production. The flipside is that his smooth approach too often precludes him from revealing his true self. On balance the slick musicianship, intuitive production and percolating songs just about win through, in spite of a surfeit of mid tempo songs.
The extended funky soul of ‘I Think I Love You Too Much’ taps into the Mayer Hawthorne influenced white boy soul market. The song is full of restraint, purpose and substance, with plenty of space, feel and presence to draw the listener in. And as Ben locks horns with special guest Aynsley Lister, it’s a surprisingly subtle conversational exchange of ideas rather than a shred fest.
In many respects the song is a mirror image of the album as a whole. Ben’s understated vocals are well suited to his material, which simmers and occasionally bubbles up with a guitar lick here and a redolent hook there.
Such is the laid back nature of the album that the opening descending chord of ‘Longing For a Woman’ almost feels like a rupture, before the track quickly reverts to the album’s introspective template. ‘If You Want To Play With My Heart’ is probably one laid back song too many, though he successfully explores bluster and contrast with a muscular, but quivering toned guitar break.
‘Time Might Never Come’ adds a dream like quality with a shimmering tone and whispered vocals. When the solo finally explodes it feels as if he’s waited the previous four tracks to finally cut loose, though he maintains his poise to deliver his resolution with real panache and feel.
The funky ‘Stay At Mine’ may not be the defining moment of the album but it’s a snapshot of what he is capable of. In sharp contrast his gentle phrasing and the beguiling hook of the melodic ‘You’ve Changed’ is an unashamed stab at Radio 2 and related playlists, while ‘Whoever Invented Love’ sounds as if he had the chorus first, before fleshing out the rest of the song with a board brush strokes and an overdue guitar solo.
The success of this album will be determined by how quickly the melodies and hooks connect with the listener. The closing Mark Knopfler influenced ‘The Question Why’, is an exercise in real song craft, realized over a distant slide motif and an uplifting solo with plenty of space to evoke the power of suggestion. The nuanced production sparkles, even if someone was too over zealous with the stop-watch, as the solo could have built to something more climactic.
No matter, it’s an impressive finish to a well conceived album delivered with a lightness of touch that suggests Ben Poole is already on the up escalator. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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