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Michael Lanning Michael Lanning
Album: Words Should Mean Something - Live At The Bitter End
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 11
Website: http://www.michaellanning.com

This album was sent as a double package with the EP Modern Sounds In Love & Cynicism which has been reviewed separately.

A visit to Michael's website tells us he began performing in theatre at the age of nine and now having turned 60, continues to tread the boards. His wide and varied career takes in not only the theatre, but also song writing and performing. His band Jiva signed to George Harrison's Dark Horse label in the 70's and he has written hits for the likes of Dave Edmunds and the Stray Cats. Michael was the voice of numerous commercials in the states, been in several tour musicals and for six years was a featured vocalist in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, where he was introduced as "The most soulful white man on the planet"

I think I am right in saying this album was originally released in 2013 in the USA, but is only now directly available here in the UK.

The eleven songs were recorded live over two nights at The Bitter End venue in New York. Nine are Michael Lanning originals plus Woman In The Moon by Jennifer Grais and Whistle In Me Walk from Jimmy 'Jo Joy' Hilton. Most of the tracks consist of Michael solo on guitar, mandolin and vocals apart from a little extra instrumentation here and there. The only exception is Whistle In Me Walk which gets more of a full band treatment.

Michael opens to a lively, appreciative crowd with Billy Spyder's 666th Dream and its almost 'stream of consciousness' lyrics that were apparently remembered on waking from a night of sickness and fever. Over a boogie-woogie rhythm guitar piece, Michael runs out the lyrics as they roll and tumble over one another. The opening couplet of "I drove Kennedy and Dylan out in a white Mercedes Benz, down to the New York hotspot they called the Bitter End" pretty much sets the scene and is clearly going to get the locals onside! Michael has a strong, solid voice with a pleasing rasp as he pushes this one through.

Second track Give Something Back (To The World) delivers pretty much what the title suggests and although clearly isn't going to bring anything new to the subject matter, it does show off a softer, sweeter side to Michael's voice and at times reminded me of Cat Stevens.

Lies That Bind is a personal sounding ballad and is another good showcase for Michael's vocal.

Stellar Dancer shifts things up a gear again with its 12 bar blues feel and is an early favourite of mine.

Although clearly enjoyed by the crowd, I have to say Your Kid Is Buggin' Me grated a little and felt a little smug and self satisfied. It seemed like it was aiming for the wry, ironic song writing territory of Randy Newman but didn't quite make it.

However, things look up again with Cut His Chains and You've Got Something, the latter featuring Lauren Leon on guest vocals.

Give Me Back My Money, Baby has a slightly acidic introduction that the crowd seemed to appreciate and the song continues in similar acerbic vein, whilst Resolve Of The Great Hunger is an altogether more reflective affair with another fine vocal and some sweet supporting fiddle.

The album ends with the two covers, Woman In The Moon and lastly Whistle In Me Walk, both very strong songs. This final track is something of an ensemble number and after an impromptu rehearsal, the crowd join in enthusiastically for the chorus and clearly a great time was had by all.

Throughout, this album has an atmospheric live feel with its boisterous crowd, glasses chinking and good-natured banter, but never at the expense of the recorded sound where Michael's voice and playing are captured to good effect. It is very much a case of no bells or whistles and what you hear is what you get, which in Michael's case is no mean thing at all.

Paul Jackson