Vibratown Music Records [Release date 10.01.20]
Nick Kendall is a UK based South African session guitarist and a contemporary of Dan Patlansky, who on this album steps fronts a top line band who cross the divide from the world of anonymous sessions to an album fashioned by their own DNA.
The Kendall Connection is a song-driven pop-rock album with blues, funk, soul and jazzy influences, with enough of an organic feel for the band to stretch out impressively.
There are plenty of undulating melodies, intricate playing, catchy hooks and lyrical vignettes that suggest a time and place worthy of our attention.
At its best, the album delivers some strong hooks, particularly on the opening ‘Staring Back At Me’, the narrative driven ‘Driving Without Headlights’ and the sublime Latino influenced ‘Soul’d Out’, while on the downside of the project doesn’t quite make up its mind what it wants to be.
The album initially appears to occupy the middle ground of pop inflected songcraft, but there’s plenty of tempo changes, stop and starts and contrasting sections that sometimes illuminate a piece, but at other times obscures the albums flow.
That said, the melodies do resonate, the harmonies sparkle, the guitar parts brings punch, and the rhythm section of bassist Greg Hagger and drummer Tom Clare is fluid and versatile enough to lay the perfect foundation for the band to stretch out.
It’s all topped by Nick Kendall’s pleasant vocal style which is well suited to his story telling narratives and hovers above layers of intricate sonic detail.
His gentle phrasing is reminiscent of Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook, 10cc and even Caravan’s Pye Hastings, on a wide ranging musical journey that gives his mid-range vocals plenty of contrasting outlets.
Kendall is also a thoughtful songwriter with a penchant for evocative detail. In his best moments, his musical arrangements mirror lyrical meaning as on the impressionist road trip of ‘Driving Without Headlights, the aptly titled ‘Soul’d Out’ and the introspective ‘Ready To Come Home’, which is voiced on acoustic piano and gently thumbed bass.
There’s a palpable jazzy feel to the beguiling ‘Breathe’, the kind of song that Robben Ford might tackle. And they indulge themselves on a similar late night feel on the complex ‘Wood On The Fire’ which could have done with a few sharp edits.
It opens with a sinewy bluesy guitar line and quickly locks into a funky feel with a catchy hook. It moves to a 10cc style bridge with dreamy bv’s. and an uncertain organ-led mid section before the band is shoehorned back into the song.
Much like the funky stomp ‘Sign Of The Times’, it almost sounds if they had the chorus before the rest of the song. In fact, the chorus rescues the latter’s stop-start stomp that still manages to incorporate an unexpected time change and a ferocious guitar break.
‘The Kendall Connection’ is a melodic driven self produced album that an extra pair of ears might have reigned in the overuse of pregnant pauses and variable endings. The sheer variety of the music and some busy arrangements must have given the quartet sleepless nights when considering the final song sequence.
The opening ‘Staring Back At Me’ is a confident start on which their hook-heavy pop sensibility is offset by some gritty wah-wah, while the Squeeze sounding ‘Heart Of The City’ is more of an accurate indicator of what to expect.
Kendall’s airy vocals are flanked by essential harmonies that give his Ray Davies style narratives the perfect backdrop. It draws the listener into a location shifting narrative that embraces New York, London and Paris on a radio friendly song.
The road trip imagery of ‘Driving Without Headlights’ is topped and tailed by a guitar motif that straddles another great hook. But it’s a notable musical departure with an acoustic intro into a bass and tom-tom driven stop-time piece with the kind of sludgy Zeppelin rhythm often recycled Joe Bonamassa, but given a contrasting lightness of touch on the verse.
The vocals are again reminiscent of Tilbrook, 10cc and the timbre of Al Stewart. It’s a subtle tension builder which the narrator calls: “a moonlight whisky lullaby”and it’s finally resolved by a piercing guitar solo.
The extended slide-led ‘A Change Is Coming’ is another slow burner, but at the 3min.08 mark, it shifts to into a beautifully sculpted solo over nuanced bv’s, on another example of how the music subtly underpins the lyrical message.
This is arguably the band’s best moment on a sumptuous groove that supports Kendall’s trademark solo and mini shred. They perfectly balance song structure with real feel and an ability to pursue a bigger musical vision.
They switch to a Latino groove on ‘Soul’d Out’, which seemingly comes out of nowhere, but it’s well suited to Kendall’s phrasing, while the feverish dance floor friendly horn stabs push it in the direction of being a very radio friendly song.
The plaintive ‘Ready To Come Home’ is the perfect book-end. Topped and tailed by an acoustic guitar and closing harmonics, it opens with a lattice of interwoven piano, acoustic and bass that serves to evoke the fleeting optimism of the song title.
A final brief angular jam as part of the song reminds us that whatever their pop sensibilities, this album always finds room for the band to follow their natural exploratory inclinations. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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In this show, first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 2 February 2020, David Randall plays a selection of tracks from some of the artists who impressed at this year’s Giants Of Rock event in Minehead (24-27 January).
Featured Albums w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 NEWMAN Ignition (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 BLACK SWAN Shake The World (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 CORMAC O CAOIMH Swim Crawl Walk Run (indie)
Power Plays w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)
SHAKRA Turn The Light On (AFM Records)
THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA Transmissions (Nuclear Blast)
RYDERS CREED Lost Soul (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)
FRAMING HANLEY Puzzle Pieces (Thermal Entertainment LLC)
ROBERT HART Mysterious (Escape Music)
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