It’s not often that a review of an Americana album features a lead artist whose previous musical life saw him play and tour with a diverse range of stars such as The Platters, Tony Christie, Dana and even more bizarrely with Les Dennis, Ronnie Corbett and even Charlie Drake (apologies to either younger or non-UK readers who may have no idea who those last few people are, but if you’re really curious you can look them up online!) Such is the life of Richard Townend.
After graduating from Leeds College of Music in 1986, a move to London soon followed and like many before him, he eventually became disillusioned with the professional music scene and with the fun gone from the music he hung up his guitar (professionally at least) and went off to live in Essex. The music though never really leaves you and after a few years hiatus and inspired by watching a jam session at the Bewick Suite in Maldon, he was inspired to enter the professional music fray once more and formed the hard-rocking blues outfit The BossCats which morphed over time to a more broad Americana based sound with The Mighty BossCats. Over the last 10 years or so, his output has been prodigious culminating in 11 album releases in the period Jan 2011 – Mar 2020 with another currently in the pipeline.
That brings us to the latest offering from the highly productive Mr Townend and ‘Ticket to Memphis’ doesn’t disappoint with over 60 minutes’ worth of highly enjoyable musical entertainment. There’s no denying that Townend uses his music and his words to create almost visual storytelling and the title track kicks off the album with a tale of Townend trying to get from Houston to Memphis to support some friends who had entered a blues competition, only to find he had left it too late to economically book the flight. The song urges others not to make the same mistake, to take life by the scruff of the neck and not leave everything to the last minute. ‘Dixie Dixie’ follows as Townend displays the lyrical dexterity that is on show throughout the album with a tale of a bible belt daughter who finally breaks away from her hypocritical KKK father.
The release notes for the album describe ‘Dobryi-Vecher’ as a thank you to Boris, but thankfully it refers not to the UK PM, but to a Russian friend who invited him to play in Moscow and once again his deftness with words come to the fore as he describes an otherwise mundane Metro journey “On the way to the show – the metro is so clean, Eyes of the people on the tube – look away don’t want to be seen, Afraid of maybe saying something – to the wrong type of guy, Little thieves are hanged – great ones escape with lies”. This directness of message runs throughout the album and Townend doesn’t shy away from saying as he sees it and therein lies much of the charm of this album. There are no overly obtuse lyrics and tracks like ‘Remember’ describe perfectly the angst of a family watching a loved one slip deeper into a world of Dementia, it’s simply written with an uncluttered arrangement but the message of love is clear and heartfelt and it’s very moving.
This ability to conjure up vivid imagery is a constant throughout the 14 tracks that comprise ‘Ticket to Memphis’ and it’s a rare thing for an album to hold your attention from the opening lines of the first track to the closing lines of the last. It’s rarer still for it to continue to do it over multiple plays but that’s what Richard Townend has pulled off with this fine effort. But it’s not only about the lyrics, the standard of guitar playing and general musicianship, not just from Townend also plays banjo, mandolin, keyboards and even trumpet, but the various supporting contributors is first class and his strong Blues background, although present in a number of the songs, never overpowers the diverse range of material on ‘Ticket to Memphis’ and it’s an album that you definitely seek and out and buy.