You know that you are in for a musical treat when the gig that you are attending is a) – taking place in The Betsey Trotwood, and b) – it is being put on by Black Cat Music. I was, therefore, looking forward to a treat when I turned up at the aforementioned hostelry to listen to the launch of the new album (Wilderness Road) by London singer/songwriter James Hodder.
I have to declare a little interest. Going back some nine months or so, I found myself in a late night music gathering in a High Wycombe Travel Lodge following the finale of last year’s Rambling Roots. Memories are hazy but playing and singing in the round were Pete Gow, Robin Bennett, Dave Banks and a couple of people that I didn’t know, including Hodder. I had just heard James sing a song during the festival’s Club House Band Springsteen tribute. When passed the guitar in the hotel lounge he asked for any requests. I boldly asked if he knew any Jackson Browne. He did and he went on to mesmerise me with the most haunting rendition of ‘These Days’. It was if he had written it himself – I was entranced.
It was therefore with great anticipation that I stood amongst the sizeable audience who had turned up for this album launch. I was not disappointed. I can go ahead and confess that it is one of the best concerts by a debut artist that I have seen in many a year. A 15 song set of solo and band accompanied music that hit every spot. James’ clear and pitch perfect voice treated ballads and rockers alike. From the acoustic opening ‘Where Do I Begin?’ to the rollicking finale, there was not a note out of place. So many great songs that it is difficult to highlight any without doing an injustice to the others. If I had to pick, then – ‘Top of the Hill’, ‘Flesh and Bone’, ‘Hillbilly The Kid’ and ‘Wilderness Road’ (the title track from the new album) were the highlights of the songs performed with the band. ‘King of the Jungle’ and the brilliant ‘San Luis Obispo’ were the acoustic highlights.
James was joined on stage at various times by bass player Dan Cooper, who laid down a consistent and insinuating beat throughout the set; Tom Monks, keyboard player extraordinaire whose sultry, infectious playing reminded me at times of Spooner Oldham; and lastly, on harmonica, Johnny Appleyard whoprovided a constant driving back beat. And through it all James singing effortlessly; singing a set of very strong songs; singing every song as though it was written for me; singing songs that held hints of Tom Petty, hints of Bruce, hints of Billy Joel and yes, hints of Jackson Browne…. and yet, there is still a treat to come. James introduced the last song as being ‘An Americana classic’. I could almost hear the inner thoughts of the crowd around me. ‘American Girl?’, ‘Copperhead Road?’, ‘Memphis In The Meantime?’ – OK, the inner thoughts that were in in my head! But no, the band roared straight into a blistering performance of Danny & The Champions’ ‘Never Stop Building A Great Space Rocket’. The crowd, as they say, went wild. Singing along with every word of every verse.
A fabulous end to what was a fabulous concert.