Quite possibly one of the most successful artists you've never heard of, Pope has released five solo albums, sold two million singles (on download), notched up over 100 million YouTube views and been streamed over 126 million times on Spotify. His music has also been featured on Vampire Diaries and 90210 and he's guested as himself on the last season of Nashville. Even so, it's a fair bet that his name will mean nothing to your average music fan, Americana or otherwise. That might well change with the release of this, his first album with his new Brooklyn-based band on his own label to coincide with a UK and European tour.
Given he hails from Georgia, you'll not be surprised to learn the music has a distinct Southern rock n roll feel, kicking off in fine fettle with the Pettyish country rock 'Southern Cross' with its keeping lap-steel and rousing chorus line "you were born from the dust, you were raised in the dirt" and moving directly into the banjo-backed, bluesy-rock 'Ain't No Angel' which, with its clanking percussion, throaty slide guitar and 'whoa oh ho' chant sounds like a close cousin to Bon Jovi's 'Blaze of Glory'. Another reference point rears its head with the brown sugar sprinkled on the sax-driven Stonesy swaggering 'Hell Or High Water' while 'Take Me Home' clearly nods in the Alabama direction of Skynyrd and 'Bad Intentions' strolls through New Orleans with a brass section, arm-in-arm with Randy Newman to an oompah vaudeville march rhythm.
As this might suggest, Pope isn't exactly forging an original path, but he does take you down familiar byways like a highly accomplished tour guide who, with his lyrics and masterful way around melodies and hooks, knows how to make them feel like fresh discoveries. As all the above and the mid-tempo alt-country 'White River Junction' with its close harmony refrains amply demonstrate, he knows his way around floor filling, beer-swigging Southern barroom rock like the back of his hand, but he can also take the mood down a notch for those moments when you just want to nurse a bourbon. If you're up for a shot or two of heartache, then there's a vintage aged in oak barrels Jack Daniels quality to the slow waltzing 'Leave You Behind' and its appropriately titled fellow piano ballad 'One Shot of Whiskey', the simple acoustic guitar strum and cracked emotion of Hotel Room with its snatched moments of doomed love ("all we ever needed was the thing we pushed aside") and, perhaps the finest song of bruised romanticism, lost love and regret that Tom Petty never wrote, the forlorn, reflective sparse, steel chiming 'Lies And Cigarettes' ("I couldn't say if I loved her or if we were not there yet, we were young and living on lies and cigarettes"). Indeed, the latter two tracks alone are enough to declare this the first best album of 2016 and one I can guarantee will still be figuring high on my playlist come this time next year.
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