Wednesday, 2 October 2013

REVIEW: Steve Cradock - 'Travel Wild Travel Free' (Proper Records)

Steve Cradock is without a doubt a hard working musician who deserves far more credit than he seems to receive. Over the last few decades he has played a part in some fantastic records, most notably those made with Ocean Colour Scene and of course the collaborative work on the large majority of Paul Weller's output since the 90's. The psychedelic sounds explored on Weller's most recent LPs seemed to creep in to parts of the latest OCS album 'Painting', and it was clear which band member was bringing these flavours in to the mix. On Cradock's third solo outing, we get an undiluted taste of his flower power-meets-Quadrophenia musical visions. 

He's experimenting but still making the sort of music that's close to his heart, and appropriately includes the people who mean the most to him, as wife Sally's vocals supply the dreamy opener 'Any Way The Wind Blows' with an additional hazy elegance. Showing he will always be an old mod at heart is the surging highlight 'Sheer Inertia', the most energetic moment here, almost like The Who going space-rock, and the jagged guitars and trippy diversions of the brilliantly produced 'I Am The Sea'. Vocally he's more confident and authoritative than on previous records, and proves that as well as being a superb guitarist, he can also deliver the goods all-round. Conjuring up a magical late-summer vibe, the shimmering beauty of 'The Magic Hour' is classic Cradock, blessed with sparkling 60's pop melodies and a stunning chorus, it's easily up there with the best songs this man has ever worked on. 

There's very little to grumble about, although the sugary '10,000 Times' (co-written with Squeeze's Chris Difford) doesn't really fit the album, and could have easily been left out. The brief mind-bending interlude 'Out Of Mist' leads nicely into the Eastern tinged daydream that is 'Street Fire', before the appearance of the fantastic 'Doodle Book'. Originally appearing on the latest OCS album, it retains its soulful stomp and adds weird edges to make it work on an additional level, another fine example of the psychedelic mod music that he does so well.

The infectious 'Revolver'-esque 'Running Isn't Funny Anymore' is another high point and the record's second half doesn't disappoint either, offering the bursts of light and strange backwards voices of the McCartney-meets-Weller title track, the superb melotron of the 'Elizabethan' segue and the dark Kinks-like 'Shark Fin Island'. Perhaps a few of these would also work well as Ocean Colour Scene songs, but become something different when placed solely in Cradock's hands.

It's often surprising, but comes with with many of the familiar qualities that make his sound recognisable, as exhibited brilliantly by the elegantly chilled swoon of the closing 'Dreaming My Life Away', bringing the LP to an end with another blissful highlight. And OCS fans may recognise a riff during sections of the song that bears more than a passing resemblance to the interlude that lies between 'Half A Dream Away' and 'It's A Beautiful Thing' on their 1997 album 'Marchin' Already'. But rather than resorting to digging up the past, it brings together vintage ingredients in an admirably contemporary way. Fitting in 13 tracks into 37 minutes, none of the songs overstay their welcome either.

Trying out different sounds and exploring new territories while also continuing to do what he has always excelled at, on his third solo album Cradock has got the balance just right. 'Travel Wild Travel Free' is capable of gaining this artist new converts, winning over those who haven't been keen on his past offerings and keeping his existing fanbase happy. After this LP's release, he goes off on tour with Weller before playing a string of solo gigs, and then heading back out on the road with Ocean Colour Scene. And when he's making great records like this, we should be pleased that music continues to keeps him busy. 8/10

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