The journey towards maturity of Ben Poole continues. I’d like to be able to report that with Trio – Live ’19 he has at last emerged definitively into the sunlit uplands, but that would be pushing it. However in partnership with drummer Wayne Proctor and bassist Steve Amadeo – and you’d better believe that’s pretty good hired help – he does bank some worthwhile credit with this live album, sharp looking cover and all.
After warming up with a couple of stolid numbers that could’ve done with a few more beats per minute, the rubber really hits the road courtesy of Jude Cole’s 80s hit ‘Start The Car’, a catchy affair which has plenty of zip as Proctor knocks out a snappy groove and Poole delivers some fizzing guitar licks.
|Watch you don't fall there, Ben!
Pic by Robert Sutton
But they really get cracking in the middle of the set, kicking off with ‘The Question Why’, which opens in slick, soulful fashion, with a snazzy bass line from Amadeo, before its appealing melody kicks in. There’s sparky guitar work from Poole, and as he gets into a second solo Proctor’s drums propel matters with a sense of urgency. ‘Further On Down The Line’ is a well-constructed tune that throbs along nicely with Proctor playing just behind the beat and Poole piquing interest with a squelchy, fuzzy guitar tone. Then ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ makes a bid for pièce de resistance status, a slowie that makes effective use of Poole’s vulnerable, quavery vocal. It’s a good tune, and Poole deploys an intriguingly wobbly guitar tone on an excellent, pinpoint guitar solo before shifting gear satisfyingly, not going overboard and lent top drawer underpinning by Proctor and Amadeo.
I’m not sure they ever reclaim those heights, though ‘Lying To Me’ does maintain the momentum, with tough, slightly discordant riffing and a nifty, tumble-turning bridge ahead of a brief solo. ‘I Think I Love You Too Much’ is melodically slight, but benefits from sprightly opening guitar licks over a rock solid groove featuring rich, bubbling bass, and an assertive second guitar solo. On ‘Found Out The Hard Way’ Poole’s light voice never manages to communicate real emotional depth, sounding more like a teenager with a petted lip than a grown man in a dark place. But the middle eight gives it a lift, and Poole delivers an impressive, piercing solo improvising around the melody. Then they regroup more convincingly with the offbeat rhythm and punchy riff of ‘Stay At Mine’, exploring funkier terrain that would have benefited from a more resounding ‘let it rip’ conclusion.
|Ben Poole - same to you mate!
Pic by Gernot Mangold
But sometimes when Poole spreads himself, as he likes to do, more focus is required. His brittle-toned solo guitar intro to ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ rambles on for a good four and a half minutes, taking in the first verse, before Proctor and Amadeo arrive on the scene, and more minutes go by before it rouses itself to something wirier and emphatic. ‘Anytime You Need Me’ is better, setting off on a strutting beat and resonant riff, with a spiky little solo and some spitfire vocals, before they take it down for Amadeo to deliver a restrained and arresting, guttural-toned bass showcase. But boy do they take an age to climb out of that to a sinewy crescendo - throwing a few sharp combinations to end the round, in boxing parlance, would have more impact.
The closing ‘Time Might Never Come’ is overlong too at fifteen minutes plus, but I’ll given them the benefit of the doubt this time. Slow and reflective, it aspires to a John Mayer-like intensity at times, as an aching, dramatic solo builds to passages of scrabbling fretwork then strung-out notes, before the vocals re-enter to the accompaniment of ringing chords. Quite why they then choose to tack on a meandering coda is beyond me, though.
Listening to Live – Trio ’19, I still think Ben Poole has work to do to build a stronger repertoire of songs, with a definitive voice, that will produce a real breakthrough. That breakthrough may have eluded him here, but there are enough positives to suggest that if he keeps working at his craft, keeps polishing, then one fine morning he may find he’s arrived.
Trio - Live '19 is released on 31 January. Ben Poole starts his British tour the same night - look here for details of all dates.