Album review: AL ROSS & THE PLANETS – Blue Crystal

AL ROSS & THE PLANETS - Blue Crystal

Wienerworld Music [Release date 10.09.21]

Al Ross & The Planets’ “stylistically diverse” (it sez ere) second album, Blue Crystal, had a difficult birth.

As well as being handicapped by the pandemic’s side effects of lockdown and quarantine, this international band of musicians saw two of their members struck down by the virus, just as they were about to enter the studio.

What we’ve got here then is unarguably a triumph of artistry over adversity.

11th hour recruits, keyboard man Lyndon (Squeeze/Cocker/Dolby) Connah and blues guitarist Norman (Jack Bruce/Van Morrison/BB King) Beaker, were the perfect fit for the remaining complement. Almost by accident, a band was created that is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.

The recording opens with ‘Crossroads’ (not that one). As Ross sifts through the fragments of a love affair gone wrong, a full throated gang chorus breaks through, tempered by strains of a softly swaying gospel rhythm. It’s a compelling start, opening the door to an emotional, thoughtful album, full of songs about love and faith and indeed, love lost.

The title track’s reflective, yearning lyrics, movingly expressed by Ross’s lived-in, been round the block a few times vocals, reveal glimpses of a bigger picture. The track’s arrangement is easy to marvel at, as we hear the instruments behind him spark up one by one, adding a sympathetic weight to his dreamily melodic vocals.

‘Faith’ and ‘All The Things We Started’ are closer in style perhaps than the others tracks. There are hints of the Page/Leonard startup,Third Matinee here. The first, sketched around a melancholy piano refrain, has an evocative Westcoast Rock vibe.
The latin rhythms of the second have a smokier, jazzier feel, undercutting the sense of regret in the lyrics.

And then… the country twang and dry sense of humour of ‘Something Changed My Mind’ brightens our mood. Ross has perfected the sweetened out Dylanesqe drawl, paring all emotions to a minimum, leaving a piano and Hammond pairing to work the crowd.

There are only 8 tracks on the album, but there seem so many more. It’s an accomplished recording, a paean to the power of unashamed sentiment. ****

Review by Brian McGowan

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