Big, brassy and soulful songs from the ex-Case Hardin main man – horns, strings, organ and cinematic production bring these brilliant, booze-soaked, rock ‘n’ roll tales to life.
Former Case Hardin frontman-turned-solo-artist Pete Gow’s third album, Leo, is bold as brass – quite literally, as, this time around, the trademark orchestral sound he debuted on 2019’s ‘Here There’s No Sirens’ and its follow-up, ‘The Fragile Line’ – from 2020 – has been bolstered by some impressive, rich and soulful horn arrangements courtesy of his producer, multi-instrumentalist, Joe Bennett (The Dreaming Spires, Bennett Wilson Poole, Co-Pilgrim, Saint Etienne).
‘Leo’ feels like the natural successor to Gow’s previous two solo records, which were also created with Bennett (bass, piano, organ, vocals, strings, horns) and drummer, Fin Kenny, who, like Gow, are both workhorses of the UK americana scene.
This album should’ve been out a while ago, but Covid put it behind schedule – the basic tracks were laid down in early February 2020, just before the world went into lockdown, so Bennett worked mostly alone in his studio, building up the tracks.
And, it must be said, the results are stunning. ‘Leo’ is Gow’s most accomplished and ambitious album yet, with Bennett taking his collaborator’s wry story songs about barrooms, booze, rock ‘n’roll and record collections and turning them into widescreen epics – the orchestral and brass arrangements perfectly complement these lyrically deft tales and the lives of the characters that inhabit them.
The record doesn’t mess around – the first thing we hear is a brief “OK?” from Kenny, followed by a drum salvo, before blaring horns and warm organ herald the arrival of the anthemic and soul-stirring, ‘Where Else Would We Be Going.’ “You know I like to drink alone and listen to my favourite records from the year that I was born,” sings Gow, before posing the question: “Where else would we be going?” It’s the first, but certainly not the last, reference to alcohol and music on the album – on ‘Say It With Flowers’, which, like its predecessor is similarly rousing, he’s explaining to his partner how a songwriting session ended up turning into a drinking one: “I know I told you that I need the night for writing, but I got drunk and I played ‘Bell Bottom Blues’… It must be time for me to crawl across the floor to you…”
The hedonism doesn’t stop there – on the slightly flamenco-flavoured, ‘Side III of London Calling’, he recounts how his band has played an early support slot, so he’s back at the bar by 9pm: “The rider was gone – sold for a song. I’d racked out a couple of lines.” Blimey, Charlie! Things calm down on the moving and reflective ballad, ‘Casino’ – a co-write with former Case Hardin guitarist, Jim Maving, which recalls some of the slower moments on Gow’s first two albums, with the brass taking a backseat and lush strings leading the way. For the album’s centrepiece, we’re back on the booze, but this time it’s in ‘Leonard’s Bar’ for a big, cinematic song with a Springsteen-like narrative about a former criminal who’s fallen on hard times and finds himself caught up in a difficult situation – one last job – thanks to his brother-in-law, Leo.
There are some wonderful lyrical details: “I’ve got ‘this’ and ‘that’ tattooed across my knuckles. I’ve got the names of both my kids on the inside of one of my wrists,” and, more disturbingly, later on: “I can still hear their screams and the smell of their fear. The piss in their pants and their hopeless tears.” From pissed pants to ‘Pet Sounds…’ On the orchestral epic, ‘This City Is A Symphony’, Bennett channels his inner Brian Wilson and supplies some unexpected, gorgeous and harmonic, Beach Boys-like backing vocals.
Gow is one of the finest singer-songwriters around and Bennett is a truly gifted producer, musician/ arranger, so, when they come together, it’s a marriage made in heaven. ‘Leo’ is a marvellous achievement.
Somebody please buy these guys a drink – they deserve it.