Sunday, August 19, 2018

Ben Poole - Anytime You Need Me

Well, I’m impressed.
Reviewing Ben Poole’s previous album Time Has Come back in 2016 for The Blues Magazine, I suggested that while it had strong points, some of the songs were slight, the boyishness of his voice could become wearing, and the time had come for him to find more of his dark side.  So it’s encouraging to find that on Anytime You Need Me he’s taken a big step towards addressing those issues.

Ben Poole - the boy done good
A tough, choppy guitar riff sets the tone on the opening title track, and as the song progresses Poole’s voice leaves behind his more winsome tendencies and gets into grittier territory, which he underlines with a couple of satisfying guitar solos, the first brief but edgy, and the second squealing.  And already, it has to be noted, the sound delivered by producer Wayne Proctor and his House Of Tone buddies is excellent, especially in relation to Proctor’s drums.
Poole uses fuzzed up guitar tones to good effect on several tracks, kicking off with the interesting riff on ‘Take It No More’.  It’s followed up mid-album by ‘Further On Down The Line’, on which squelchy guitar riffery crunches along over a twitching rhythm and a deep bass groove from Beau Barnard. And then on ‘Let Me Be’, the fuzzy guitar gradually pulls Barnard’s resonant bass foundation to the fore, and along with a few filigrees in the arrangement enlivens what might otherwise be a somewhat tame song.
At the centre of the album all concerned do a sterling job on a cover of Don Henley’s ‘Dirty Laundry’. Poole is again in a key that allows him to produce a bit more dig vocally, and he adds a suitably dirty guitar sound on his solo.  It’s a song with plenty of punch all round, and which could point the way for Poole in the future, with a caustic lyric that goes beyond the personal and engages with the wider world.  They follow that up nicely with Jude Cole’s 80s hit ‘Start The Car’, getting funky with throbbing bass, organ fills from Ross Stanley, guitar licks flickering between the lines of the second verse to add variety, and ultimately a stinging, wah-wah-fied solo from Poole.
‘You Could Say’ is a confection with a lot going for it, in the form of a sweetly jangling riff that recalls Stevie Nimmo’s ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’, some cleverly shuffling rhythms from Proctor, and a catchy pop melody.  But it does find Poole back reverting to lightweight vocal mode, and it’s as well that he thickens it by adding his own harmonies.
He comes up trumps with a couple of ballads though, with ‘Found Out The Hard Way’ and ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ representing twin highlights.  The former is patient and expansive, with a pleasing melody and subtle guitar work. In fact it’s subtle all round, in a very Aynsley Lister-ish way, and Poole serves up a rousing solo on the outro. The latter, penned by Proctor’s compadre Steve Wright, is a soulful slowie of beguiling simplicity, and becomes a platform for Poole to confirm the kind of guitar playing promise that he showed on his Live At The Albert Hall live album.  Giving Poole the room to breathe on these tracks proves well worth it.
The album closes with ‘Holding On’, which with its rumbling, ominous intro aspires to something more epic. It would benefit from Poole offering a stronger, more emphatic vocal, but it does go through the gears a bit halfway through, and develops an impressive head of steam as a finale.
Ben Poole may not have struck gold with Anytime You Need Me, but it is a big stride forward from him, in terms of songwriting, vocals, and all round performance.  It speaks of lots of hard work with his co-writers Wayne Proctor and Steve Wright, and shows that he does have the capability to fulfil the potential shown on his live album.  The boy done manned up a bit, and it suits him.

Anytime You Need Me is released on Manhaton Records on 14 September.
King King drummer Wayne Proctor talks about producing Anytime You Need Me here.

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