Departure Records [Release date 15.11.19]
Buck And Evans have called themselves a rock and soul band, but they also embrace a palpable West coast feel, especially so on Sally Ann Evans more introspective moments which recall Christine McVie.
Then there’s the glistening harmonies, robust choruses and Chris Buck’s stellar guitar work. It may be clichéd to call Buck And Evans the sum of their parts, but it’s hard to think of another band who contribute so fully to their melodic arrangements.
In drummer Bob Richards and Dominic Hill (a prince among bass players), they have a rhythm section that brings the full spectrum of subtlety and punch to an album that had it been recorded in the mid 70’s would surely have vied with the Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac for chart space.
That’s not to say this is a retro album, but the combination of Sally Ann’s sultry vocals, some essential harmonies, enveloping hooks and lilting grooves are the building blocks of a West coast band.
‘Write A Better Day’ is a beautifully layered album, full of crisp dynamics, soaring melodies and oodles of white boy/girl soul.
Refreshingly, it’s also an album recorded on the band’s own terms, from the original material to the album’s pacing, which bravely juxtaposes the opening bluster of ‘Slow Train’ with ‘Change’, a piano-led ballad featuring Sally Anne’s incomparable voice.
It helps of course that the song has a memorable opening line that draws the listener in: “Get a life, get a car, get a mobile phone…that you can throw away.”
The sudden push on the chorus makes it an object lesson in song craft and the words are as thoughtful as Buck’s choice of notes and tone colour.
The album title comes from a line in ‘Trail Of Tears’ which comes close to epitomising the band’s style.
And yet somewhere between the twin imperatives of rock and soul, there’s enough energy to spark their blues and funk antecedents, as well as the west coast feel and the hints of psychedelia to be found in Buck’s guitar playing.
In Sally Ann Evans they have a vocalist who lives and breathes the lyrics she sings. She nuances every emotion that the material offers her with a stellar vocal range and some peerless phrasing.
Her musical accomplice is guitarist Chris Buck, whose first solo on the magisterial opener ‘Slow Train’ lights the fuse for an album that offers so much more with each play.
The opening cut melds Richard’s tom-tom pattern with Evans’s drifting piano lines and arresting vocal, while Buck’s big guitar break suggests that the ‘Slow Train’ is gathering speed, on a peach of a track.
Buck is a feel guitarist who sculpts his solos as part of the song rather than dominating them, but when he does cut loose his touch, tone and dexterity mark him out as a rare talent.
‘Write A Better Day’ is also the perfect title for an album that radiates optimism, from the exuberant flow to the lyrical imagery and songs that linger in the mind. This is especially so on tracks such as ‘Fix You’, with its eerie opening into a waltz style ballad that finishes on a beautifully nuanced vocal fade.
Then there’s the contrasting soulful cool, chiming power chords and vocal block on ‘Sunrise’, before Evans adds gospel style bv’s alongside strings leading into a full blown Buck solo that reaches for the stars.
It feels as if each track is linked even when there’s a sudden rupture, such as when Bob Richards’ big drum break on ‘Sunrise’ ushers in a tension breaking, big toned guitar solo. The soulful climactic vocal and accompanying harmony bv’s feel like brush strokes on a canvas.
The band’s use of space and dynamics on tight arrangements also gives their music a potency that contemporaries will find hard to emulate.
There’s an integrity and a consistent strand of honesty and emotion at the heart of their music. The moments of grandeur, succinct sparkling solos and harmonies are matched by lyrical depth and a focused musical ability.
Above all, ‘Write Me A Better Day’ feels like an old school album crafted with contemporary values. Given enough airplay this impressive debut album should help a truly excellent band make a big splash in the rock market. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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