While these themed cover songs come from such a wide range that not all will be favourites, Poulton’s re-working is fresh, full of verve – and occasionally miraculous.
Label: Independent – www. paulpoulton.com
Time: 11 tracks / 44 mins
Poulton is an original. He puts himself completely into whatever he does, and that varies considerably – he has recently written the commentary ‘Genesis for Ordinary People’ (see the review in our books section) and an Exodus follow-up.
His hallmarks include integrity, resilient drive and a well-earthed thoughtfulness. Though his budget must be slim, he gets a quality mix on his recordings.
A project that started when singing a song at his mother’s funeral, these covers “have an air of ‘50s and ‘60s music about them, but enough groove and ideas to let the listener know that these are present arrangements of past songs that speak about the future,” according to Poulton. I’ll agree with that (even if I can’t always see where they speak of the future).
The opener “Milky White Way” – a hope-filled piece of musical eschatology that Elvis recorded – and the doo-wop of “I Believe in the Man in the Sky” have definite ‘50s vibe about them.
He hits the next decade with “I Say a Little Prayer.” It’s one of two with ex-Reapers vocalist Jeannie Lowe taking lead vocals to add to her harmonies elsewhere. It’s hard for any singer to compete with the classic version we all know, and the standout bits for me are Poulton’s guitar break and tasty bass work.
He goes further back with “I Stand Amazed.” Poulton starts his unique sound here – light reggae with plenty of zip – to update the tune’s Sunday school feel. With its almost dub-like sense of space, this is a miraculous transformation that makes me wish he did more production work.
Highlights for me are newer works, such as the chilled groove of Tedeschi Trucks’“Midnight in Harlem” and Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On,” where he has another enjoyable guitar break.
Even better is his thoroughly enjoyable take on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock.” As good a version as I’ve heard, it includes the original demo’s final verse, which appears neither on Simon’s recording nor even his website’s lyrics page. That shows Poulton’s depth. There is something of Larry Norman’s “Six o’Clock News in the way he moves through the chords here, and his long-time Norman influences also show in the backing harmonies on George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” – in some countries, the preferred side of the double A-side single “My Sweet Lord.”
He poultonises Stuart Townend’s “You are My Anchor,” showing how to get a convincing reggae feel, even when you’re a white man from the English Midlands.
It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes Poulton’s vocal style so distinctive: it is not his greatest asset, as it can sound lean and sometimes he’s on the verge of missing high notes. It’s the only thing that threatens the professionalism of the disc, as the sound otherwise is meticulous. I once described his voice on Tollbooth as “a thin version of John Lennon’s,” and heard that way, it comes across more strongly.
It saddens me that this is unlikely to get the attention it deserves, just because it is independent. At the end, it leaves me ready to hear more – always a healthy sign – and with that smart, trebly, bubbly guitar groove as a welcome rhythm in my head.