Sunday, October 11, 2020

King King - Maverick

Family, love, brotherhood, bereavement, togetherness in the face of the storm, defiance in response to music biz frustrations.  These are themes that King King main man Alan Nimmo sings about with heart-on-sleeve conviction.  Really, this album should be called Manifesto, rather than Maverick.  But maybe someone had already taken that one.
It’s been three long years since King King’s last release, Exile & Grace, and three-quarters of the line-up at work here didn’t feature then.  But when Maverick kicks off with ‘Never Give In’, it’s right in the Bad Company/Whitesnakey kinda territory they’ve made their own over the last decade, with big ringing chords, surging organ, and the new rhythm section of Andrew Scott and
Alan Nimmo delivering his manifesto
Pic by Jon Theobald

Zander Greenshields giving the bottom end a big fat sound, while Nimmo expresses his determination to overcome obstacles put in his way.  And later, on ‘I Will Not Fall’, a lyrically biting reaction to the sourness of business relationships, the rhythm boys are at it again, with a thumping backbeat from Scott and throbbing bass from Greenshields laying down a funky foundation, augmented by tidal waves of organ and bubbling clavinet from Jonny Dyke.
Verily, the foursome sound like a band.  But it’s impossible to ignore the contribution made by keys man Dyke.  He’s had to wait a while to make a record on which he could emerge from the shadow of his predecessor Bob Fridzema, but boy what an impact he has here.  And it’s not just the power of his organ playing on the upbeat stuff, or his work on the arrangements with Nimmo, it’s what he brings to the more reflective material – and these are the songs that really raise Maverick to another level.
The absolute standout among these, the cream of the crop, is ‘When My Winter Comes’, a ballad for piano and voice alone, co-written by Nimmo and Dyke, which is so much more than its minimal parts.  With Nimmo’s delivery of an inescapable melody intertwining with Dyke’s subtle piano chords and embroidery, and some perfectly pitched harmonies, it’s a meditation on roots and the ageing process that will have the hairs on the back of your neck prickling.  Guaranteed.
Not far behind that highlight comes ‘Whatever It Takes To Survive’, a song about loss graced by subtle and soulful verses that take me back to the smouldering tunes on Standing In The Shadows.  It toughens up for the assertive chorus though, with Dyke’s organ again swirling purposefully in the mix.  And there’s a harmonised guitar segment - which will just beg for new recruit Stevie Nimmo to get stage front with his brother for a twin guitar moment - as a prelude to a scorching Nimmo solo and a big climax.
Being honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced by ‘By Your Side’ at first.  Which goes to show that sometimes I can be a schmuck.  With another piano-led intro, this is a grower with what feels like a deeply personal lyric about relationships and observing a loved one’s suffering, and a lovely melody enhanced by wonderful harmonies.  It builds gradually, until Nimmo carves out another spine-tingling solo.
Upbeat songs like ‘Fire In My Soul’ and ‘End Of The Line’ may not carry the same emotional heft
Cheer up guys - the album's a winner!
as the slowies, but there’s still depth to the lyrics amid the radio-friendly swell of the sound.  On the former, keyboard flourishes from Dyke combine with gritty riffing from Nimmo, while Andrew Scott gives his kit a fair old walloping.  Album closer ‘End Of The Line’, meanwhile, may not mention Nimmo’s brother Stevie by name, but it more or less anticipates his recent recruitment to the band as it contemplates past adventures and future possibilities.  It’s an easy-going, lightly funky tune, with a great little guitar solo, but it’s still earnest in expressing the belief that “Together we can face this world, and never be alone.”
Along the way ‘One World’ harks back to societal themes previously explored on Exile & Grace, against the backdrop of a vibrant sound built on stuttering bass, bubbling keyboards and stabbing chords, and ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ is similarly bright and confident, ranging from swelling organ and backing vocals to warm electric piano and a stinging guitar solo as Nimmo sings about faith and trust.  And ‘Dance Together’ is a kilt-swingin’ party tune with an underlying metaphor about community, its pumping bass and propulsive drums driving a that big sound, embellished by prickling chords and a spot-on Nimmo solo squeezed out like toothpaste.
Was this album a moment of truth for Alan Nimmo, after all the vocal problems, the line-up changes, and whatever else over the last three years?  If so, he and the new look King King have hit back with a bang.  Maverick is a big-hearted, uplifting record – a musical and emotional antidote to these trying times.

Maverick is released on Channel 9 Music on 6 November, and can be pre-ordered here.

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