Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra are seven years into a career that now sees them playing gigs and festivals all over the UK and mainland Europe. The lineage of their success is rooted in a vibrant live sound that is both sincere and original whilst being steeped in a range of musical styles that are immediately resonant with the listener. So their 'North Eastern Swing' nods to country blues, western swing, ragtime, rockabilly and hokum, from Bob Wills to Django Reinhardt and George Jones to Tom Waits.
'Soul Of My City' is the bands fourth album following on from 2012's 'Money Isn't Everything', 2014's 'Talk About The Weather' and 2016's 'Something Blue'.
Of the twelve songs on the album, eleven are Rob Heron originals and one cover, 'Drinking & Carrying On' written by D.Patton. Adding their talents to Rob on vocals and guitar are Ben Fitzgerald, guitar, Tom Cronin, mandolin and harmonica, Colin Nicholson, accordion, Ted Harbot, double bass and Paul Archibald on drums. The record was recorded, mixed and mastered by John Martindale at Blank Studios in Newcastle Upon Tyne with Rob Heron and The Tea Pad Orchestra lending him a hand with the production.
Opening song 'Lets Go Back In Time, Man' swaggers in on heavily reverbed, Eddie Cochrane style guitar with Rob's vocal given a similarly vintage treatment in the mix before the band join for something of a musical showcase as it all rattles through in a breathless three minutes.
'There's A Hole (Where My Pocket Used To Be) is a slightly slower affair with a big chorus, 'Life Is A Drag' is Music Hall at its best and 'Une Bouteille de Beaujolais' saunters past on some fine accordion and double bass.
And so it goes with the rest of the album. A dazzling mix of styles, influences and original thought, all delivered with universally splendid playing and panache. With reference points this strong and fixed in history, it would be difficult for anyone to come up with a sound that feels completely authentic and contemporary, but by and large this is managed effortlessly. The only thing that really dates or pigeon-holes the songs to my ears are those tracks where Rob Heron's vocals are given an effect that makes it sound as though he is singing through a megaphone. A minor quibble though and I'm sure other people will love it!
There is a lot here to like and other personal favourites for me are 'Like A Cuckoo' which has a lovely Stax feel about it, a bit like Rob Heron covering The Commitments, 'Fool Talking Man' which carries on the vibe but moves towards 'Minnie The Moocher' territory and the witty word play of final track 'Double Meaning, Double Entendre'.
Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra have built their considerable reputation up on the strength of their live shows, and having seen them a couple of times it's easy to see why. 'Soul Of My City' maintains this energy, particularly in the strength of the ensemble band playing and does what any decent album should do, get the listener checking the gig guide to see when they are playing in their area next.
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