The name Ben Poole has cropped up on my radar continuously when talking to UK Blues musicians over the last couple of years. Usually in the context of guitar playing. Do we really need another guitar hero? Got to be my mental response to that. As a result, I was expecting to hear some serious guitar histrionics on Poole’s first full release – and, if I was lucky, some half decent songs to fit them into. It turns out I was wrong. What we have on ‘Let’s Go Upstairs’ is the expected excellent guitar yes, but in addition, a very unexpected level of songwriting and arranging – some of the best I’ve heard in a while in fact. So what happened?
In the sleeve notes Ben describes quickly putting down “fourteen brand new songs” and going in to work with Grammy Award winning producer Ike Nossel (Jeff Beck, Tina Turner, Def Leppard). Within a month he had scrapped most of them to create a new and (says Poole) better, CD . He credits Nossel with instilling the focus and drive that led to the sweat and effort that finally became the CD ‘Let’s Go Upstairs’. From the opening ‘Hanging in the Balance’ it’s clear this CD is going to be something special and anything but what I expected from a gung-ho guitarman – delicate lyrics about the fragility of life with a solo that is fitted to the song rather than vice versa . This attention to lyric and arrangement goes for all Poole’s self-penned numbers. ‘It doesn’t have to be that way’ with it’s choppy acoustic intro that again fits the songs mood rather than dictates it. “You can still be friends, Just forget you used to make love” he laments. The sad shuffle beat of ‘Love nobody no more’ and it’s reflection “What’s the point of love if it only ends in pain?”.
It’s not all pain though. “You walked in the room and put the world back to rights” he celebrates in ‘Holding onto love’. There’s Rock here too of course, particularly on the Ann Peebles classic ‘Tear Your Playhouse Down’ with a rough vocal reminiscent of the Graham Parker version and ‘Play on, Play on’ with some rock steady drumming from Alan Taylor and is that a WahWah pedal? Certainly destined to be a live favorite this one. There’s the Rock Ballad that no serious disc should be without too, in the form of ‘After all this time’ which takes an almighty nod towards Gary Moore’s ‘Still got the Blues’ and Moore’s influence is clear also on the rocking ‘Over it Now’.
The Gary Moore influence was one I expected but other influences were a pleasant surprise. there’s a Boyzone pop sound on ‘Atmosphere’ and the funky ‘Mr Pitiful’ from Otis Redding has a welcome touch of the BB King band sound, with a glorious solo that sounds like BB on speed.
All in all this is a super CD that is difficult to fault. The production is spot on, the backing musicians (including top Brits like Mark Earle on drums and Dani Wilde backing vocals) lend perfect support and the arrangements are excellent. That said, it’s ultimately the songs that are the stars here and that’s a high compliment indeed for a young guitar hero making his first full CD.
Ben Poole is setting up his first serious forays into the European concert market this year. On the evidence of this CD he deserves serious attention. There are a lot of excellent young Blues musicians treading the boards here at present and listeners that have heard the name Ben Poole just linked to his fret bending abilities are in for a very pleasant surprise – my advice is to use your ears to enjoy the CD and your eyes to watch for Ben Poole coming to your Town.
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