Album review: THE PROOF – 100% The Proof

Note Records [Release date 31.05.13]

Paul Cox has always been a singer in search of the perfect song and when the two meet head on, sparks tend to fly. And so it is with ‘100% The Proof’, an album that gives the band its name, with 11 songs that comprise 3 songs from keyboard player /engineer Roger Cotton, 2 co-writes from Paul Cox and a handful carefully chosen covers.  Together with some stellar guests he finally finds what he’s looking for.

Ironically enough, one of the best tracks on the album ‘Are You Made of Gold’, is buried deep in the album. It’s a co-write with Snowy White that must surely have worthy of lead track.

That’s not to say that the opening ‘I Got The Proof’ written by Paul with the late John Slaughter and featuring Micky Moody on peerless Dobro and sumptuous slide, is anything less than excellent.  Paul emotes his discontent on a well worn lyric about a woman having done him wrong.  But it’s a tub thumping intro to the album and works on two levels, with the guitar parts soaring above the stomping rhythm section and Paul’s soulful phrasing.

He also surrounds himself with an A team of players comprising his tour band members – the keyboard playing songwriter Roger Cotton, guitarist Mike Summerland and a solid rhythm section of drummer Peter Stroud and bassist Nigel Hardy.  There are also star turns by Micky Moody and French guitarist Charlie Fabert who rekindles his recording relationship with Paul on a stonking cover of Delbert McLinton’s ‘Why Me’.  Apart from being a welcome change of pace, it finds Charlie at his rocking best.

But ‘100% The Proof’ is really about a road tested bunch of musician led by a singer who has the ability to make even the most mundane lyric sound important or at the very least emotive. On Chuck Willis’s ‘Feel So Bad’  Paul cajoles the band to play at its very best, with both messers Cotton and Summerland stepping up to the plate, as the song works towards a celebratory gospel finish with a great solo from the underrated Mike Summerland.

‘Hard Road’ is the first of three Cotton contributions and it’s a cool blues on which he sprinkles delicate piano notes all over a bluesy number that makes the most of the quiet/loud dynamic.  It also nicely levers the listener into the corner stone of the album, an imposing cover of Jessie Mae Robinson’s ‘Cold Cold Feeling’ which segues into Zeppelins ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. Paul is at his best on some cool, but expressive phrasing as he finds room in between the piano and guitar lines.

He’s a vocalist who is unafraid to make the most of the space and time that a slow blues offers him, leaning into song and letting his timbre resonate.  Roger plays his best solo on the album with delicately nuanced notes over a massive drum sound, as the song imperceptibly slips into Zeppelin’s ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ . Paul effortlessly holds a note and lets it float into ether, as Summerland ebulliently solo’s over an accompanying organ line to finish on a sustained note.

The two segued songs capture a road tested band at its best. Zeppelin apparently recorded the song live in the studio but it was not without its problems as Jimmy Page had to redo the solo. The Proof sail though it with all the panache you might expect from a tour band as happy to lay down their stuff in the studio as on the boards.

The album flows like a great live set, with a bluesy mid-way point on which Roger’s mid tempo ‘Until The Well Runs Dry’ drawing another resolute performance from Paul. His combination of perfect diction and expansive phrasing is counter balanced by angelic bv’s.

Cotton second song ‘Dangerous Man’ is even better. It’s predicated on a rock solid groove with a big wall of sound and has a stop-time chorus with a timeless 70’s blues rock feel that you could imagine becoming a live favourite.

Steve Winwood’s ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ is as much a celebration of a musical  era as it is simply a great song, and it is beautifully voiced by Summerland’s string bends and Rogers hymnal organ line, as Paul brings real presence to bear on a track that moves into an brief unexpected tempo change just before the outro.

And as in all great gigs, the set moves toward a climactic finish with Snowy White’s peerless guitar and a superb vocal by Cox on ‘Are You Made Out Of Gold?’, which is simply a great arrangement with potent bv’s and an all too soon fade.

The band kicks into overdrive on the celebratory ‘Some Kinda Wonderful’, and delivers the kind of bristling performance that keeps the fans coming back for more.

Best known as a soul singer, ‘100% The Proof’ showcases Paul Cox and his band’s blues chops and makes you wonder why they never did this before? ****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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