Paul Carrack has an easy way with him. By that I don’t just mean that he has the happy knack of connecting with his audience in the most natural way – though he does, with song introductions and odd snippets of chat that are self-deprecating and humorous. It’s more that he makes everything seem so . . . effortless.
For a start there’s his voice. One of the best soul singers in the country, he shifts around his register in the most unforced but controlled manner, with perfect phrasing and that distinctive warm, rich timbre. Carrack’s vocals may not have the idiosyncratic personality of, say, Van Morrison or Gerry Rafferty, but they have the same capacity to convey a mood and draw in the listener.
|Paul Carrack and co - blow that horn, Stevie!|
Then there’s his song-writing. It’s easy to assume that Carrack has writing credits for most of the songs for which he’s well-known – like ‘Tempted’, for example - but actually that isn’t always the case, it’s just that he inhabits them so effectively. But he can still hold his end up when it comes to producing a damn good hook, his first hit ‘How Long’ being a prime example, but hardly an isolated one.
Presumably he’s also responsible for the spot on, carefully balanced yet relaxed arrangements. Early on in the set most of the colour is provided by Stevie Beighton’s sax and keyboards, but when they choose to heat things up on ‘Time Waits For No Man’ Carrack and his band get into a meaty funk groove, with Jeremy Meek’s bass well to the fore. And as a few solos get shared around, Carrack’s own musicianship comes to the fore.
Up to this point he’s been content to strum along on acoustic guitar, but armed with an electric he casually spins out some tasteful, soulful solos, before getting behind his Hammond organ to show off his skills in that department too. In interviews Carrack is modest about his instrumental skills, but he shows off his dexterity here. Once again, effortless.
Songs from the new album, like the gritty gambling tale of ‘Bet Your Life’ (co-written with Chris Difford) and the more folkie ‘Watching Over Me’ fit in neatly alongside staples such as ‘Eyes Of Blue’, Mike & The Mechanics’ ‘Another Cup Of Coffee’, and ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive’ (recorded by the Eagles).
And ultimately Carrack isn’t precious about playing the hits. ‘Tempted’ is pitched in mid-set, and there’s another stir of anticipation later when he eases into ‘The Living Years’. Personally it’s not really my thing, but it is an earworm of a song, with a touching message that evidently brings a good few punters to tears. When they follow up with Jackie DeShannon’s ‘Walk In The Room’ there’s minimal encouragement needed for everyone to get out of their seats. There’s enough of an echo of its jangly 60s beat incarnation by The Searchers to prick a nostalgic nerve, but Carrack and co manage to meld that with a Motown sensibility to create a sound distinctively his own. It is, as they say, a barn-burner.
As are both ‘How Long’ and ‘Over My Shoulder’ with which they enter the home straight, with the audience happily dancing and singing along. There’s no denying that at heart a Paul Carrack show is a rather cosy experience, but in the best possible way. That word ‘heart’ may have something to do with it. The man evidently loves what he does, and is very good at expressing that. Effortlessly.