The first release from the constantly-evolving collaboration that is Monks Road Social stands perfect testament to the collective spirit of getting on and getting down - where craft and skill are honed by friendship and inspiration.
Part ringleader, part plotter-in-chief Blow Monkey mainstay Dr Robert nominally fronts the endeavour and does so in the spirit of co-operation, willingly sacrificing the limelight (such as it is) to serve the song where other singers can bring more to the fore. The cast list is a veritable who's who of Paul Weller collaborators past, present and future from long standing allies like Steve White and Mick Talbot to more fleeting sidemen such as percussionist Steve Sidelnyk (who went on to play with Madonna and Richard Ashcroft), bassist Damon Minchella and sax/stick man Jacko Peake.
Acid Jazzers Matt Deighton (ex-Mother Earth), Ernie McKone and Crispin Taylor (both Galliano) chip in with guitar, bass and drums respectively with strings orchestrated by Ben Trigg whose CV includes some sterling work with Dexys and Richard Ashcroft, and the album's joyful spirit is only accentuated by newer talents - contemporary soul collective the Stone Foundation and singers Pat Dan Smyth, Samantha Whates, Angelina and Nev Cottee.
A soulful, wistful, sometimes funky with a flash of bluesy rock mood pervades the piece, from the gorgeous opening salvo of Dr Robert's Lost In Rasa with its summoning of Eastern mysticism and Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me, though the woozy omnichord-draped summer pop of Golden Day to 12 Bar Remote, Matt Deighton's funky folk guitar weave that owes as much to Messrs Graham and Jansch as it does to Leo Nocentelli and Jimmy Nolen.
Deighton is again to the fore in The Family Silver's Bronwen, a hearty instrumental wallop propelled by the White-Minchella rhythm section; while Dr Robert teams up with honey-voiced Angelina on the soul deep Sycamore Tree, before making way for Chilean singer Xime to work her charms in a simple Sanskrit acoustic mantra Adi Shakti - every bit as memorable as it is gorgeous.
From the Sierra Nevada via Shetland, J.O.S. is perhaps the greatest piano songsmith you have never heard of; the Stone Foundation's retread of Dr Robert's Cominh of Grace is a bossa nova belter and the whole episode closes with Pat Dam Smyth's So Long Soho, as telling a slice of London street commentary as any that has spilled from the pen and lips of Marlowe, Dickens, Davies or Difford.
Like a box of chocs in which every one is a fave, Down the Willows is that rare thing - a compilation that really is all killer.
|Tristan Mackay: Invisible Light||Ceri James: Glass Walkways|
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