February Album Of The MonthSo many people say (or think) the music business is run from London. Labels are there, national media are there, bands often tend to gravitate there – and, of course, the place is over-run with heaps of cappuccino-carrying marketing people rushing in and out of meetings. It’s a marvellous place – but sometimes music is all the better for being created from an entirely different ecosystem.
Wille & The Bandits new album ‘Paths’ is a product of home: a band that jumps in the van and week at a time plays the pubs and clubs of Cornwall; a band that can set up camp in a barn and just play until the magic moments come, unrestrained by the ticking clock of the city studio. Unlike the soft rolling hills of Devon – there’s a wild beauty, a rawness, a primal edge with Cornwall – and somehow this character is alive on this album. Reviewing the many albums in contention for this month’s review, it was this album that made all the others sound the same. There’s a heartbeat on ‘Paths’ that can’t be superficially created; there’s a creative freedom that references an eclectic mix of genres, and there’s a meeting place between the retro and the modern – yet shining through is a musical identify of Wille & The Bandits that is entirely their own.
The album has an immediate opening. ‘One Way’ is restless, urgent, spitting lyrics that mean something and demand attention. With the rasping vocals, expressive guitar solo and rousing choruses, this album is up and running and has you fully engaged in less than two minutes.
Next up is ‘Make Love’ – a song we playlisted for a four-week run in January, preferring it to the radio single doing the rounds. A raw funky feel to this cool groove shuffle makes the song feel very much alive. There‘s a retro feel that could take us back to the ‘Flower Power’ days of Dylan and The Doors – but given today’s divisive political issues, there’s maybe a sense everything has come full circle – and it’s time for rock n roll to testify once again.
With ‘Victim Of The Night’ there’s some great blues, the female backing vocals add warmth. Oozing character and soul, the rhythms make you want to dance as the guitar sings like a bird. From the vibe of this song you can imagine the band playing this inside a warm Cornish pub, drinks pouring and people dancing under the beams of a packed public bar on a Saturday night. This is real, organic music, faithfully captured on an album recording: It’s classic, it’s retro, but above all it’s classy.
A bit of Celtic flavour opens ‘Four Million Days’ – presenting a more vulnerable song, with emotional intensity to the lyrics that paint pictures in the mind: There’s measured tempo leading into the powerful choruses – but it’s controlled, and this is a theme throughout: As the album infolds, there is a strong sense of musical control. The band doesn’t over-bake the songs. The ideas are not killed with heavy production or over-playing. There’s light and shade and variance of style, but the music-making is measured, and from that comes the directness, the character and the power.
‘Chakra’ is a song about the world’s natural environment and ushers in some world music influences. It’s a song that shines and dances like spring, full of life, energy and colour that the return of the sun brings. ‘Keep It On The Down Low’ follows with another change of genre influence before we return to the blues with ‘Judgement Day.’ This album is a healthy, open-plan meeting place of many genres – with Wille & The Bandits’ signature character shining through throughout. As the album unfolds the influences veer off to the left and right but this sense of adventure makes the album all the more richer. Some rock albums just go in a straight line; this one takes you on a journey.
‘How Long’ is reflective and soulful, a song for a glass of wine at the end of the day with the lights turned down low. Mid-way through, the song builds, but again it’s controlled: It doesn’t just explode into noise as one might expect, having moved towards a crescendo, it then comes down again with a touching, expressive solo that is full of character – a case where less can be a lot more.
‘Find My Way’ then explodes into life, the recent radio single. Full of attack and urgency and backed by a strong music video that would have given many a first taste of what’s to come on the new album. This is followed by ‘Watch You Grow’ where rasping vocals work against a tender percussive-blues infused guitar song, could be a pop song. Many of these songs could work on mainstream radio. To me, putting the band in a genre box completely misses the point. Here we have a collection of spirited songs that could appeal to a wide range of audiences. What’s significant about the band is their music can remind people of the art of writing songs on real instruments is where the art of music really lies.
With ‘Retribution’ the band may have saved the best til last. The vocal launches and fronts the song, like a circus ringmaster, which is then carried by silhouetting anthem-rich guitar solos. This track considers how government have failed us in protecting our planet and should be held accountable. It’s one of those songs that will make a sitting down audience stand up and get involved – even before the track breaks into an up-tempo guitar jam at the end. The song protests and uplifts in equal measure. It’s a song to play again as soon as its finished.
There’s nothing wasteful on this album. There’s no padding, no unneeded solos and no filler tracks. It’s at times economical, but everything is purposeful and adds something. The music feels like the product of hundreds of gigs which have brought the songs to life. And the band lives in the part of the world where there is more creative freedom away from the smoke and mirrors of city life. ‘Paths’ stands tall as a tonic against the many rock albums that sound a bit too much like something you’ve heard before. We need this album for its independence, its freshness, and its lyrical conscience.
Organic, authentic, inspired by home but with music for the whole world to enjoy – Paths is one of the emphatically individual musical statements of 2019 so far.
The album ‘Paths’ is released on 1 February.