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Steve Ellis - Boom! Bang! Twang!

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 24 / 8 / 2018

Steve Ellis - Boom! Bang! Twang!
Label: Sony Music
Format: CD


Former Love Affair singer Steve Ellis is helped out by Paul Weller, Mike D’Abo and members of the Stone Foundation and the Moons to deliver his best solo album to date

The ex-Love Affair singer has often been included in that elite group of blue-eyed soul singers that included the other Steves (Winwood and Marriott) and, to pluck the first name out of the air when thinking back to the era of the Love Affair and white soul vocalists, Chris Farlowe. Unlike many of his contemporaries Ellis never really deserted his R’n’B and soul roots for whatever was the latest musical movement at the time. For sure he made his name with those ultra-commercial Love Affair 45s but there was never any denying the power and emotion in Ellis’vocals even at a very young age. Ellis never really embraced psychedelia like Marriott’s Small Faces (which resulted in some of that band’s best material). He also never followed the hippy trail and got it together in the country like Winwood did with Traffic. While his later bands such as Ellis and Widowmaker veered towards a rockier sound at times than the soulful pop that Love Affair were known for, there was always evidence in his emotive vocals that Ellis poured his heart and soul into every word he sang and his love of soul and R’n’B has always been traceable in his work. Since those heady days of ’68 and 'Top of the Pops' appearances there have not only been numerous compilations of the Love Affair’s music but a handful of Steve Ellis solo albums have also been released, usually to critical acclaim but not really reaching the sizeable audience that the albums generally deserved. Take the title track of Ellis’s ‘Best of Days’ album for a prime example of what many have missed. All that may just change now for Ellis has got together with some famous friends for his latest album, ‘Boom! Bang! Twang!’, which must surely afford the album more attention that it would have gained without their input. Not that Ellis needs support from others; that voice alone should guarantee your attention but if working with Paul Weller, members of the Moons and Mike D’Abo means Ellis is going to reach the wider audience he deserves then so be it. The simple fact is that ‘Boom! Bang! Twang! is Ellis’s best album in years, and, while a little of the credit for that can certainly be placed at the feet of Weller and company, the album is really built around that voice which has lost none of its power and Ellis’ knack of picking the right songs for his voice. He’s not a prolific songwriter, his name appears in the credits to only three songs on this album but Ellis is a great interpreter and the choice of covers here is more than inspired. The album was recorded at Ripley’s Black Barn Studios and co-produced by Ellis with Weller and Charles Rees. Tim Hardin’s ‘Black Sheep Boy’ opens the album. The first words we hear - "Here I am back home again” - take on new meaning in this setting, no mean feat for this much-covered song. But then it’s coming from a singer who sang on the definitive version of ‘Everlasting Love’, beating even Robert Knight’s version. With just Weller on piano, Andy Crofts' bass and Ben Gordelier on drums the song is the perfect showcase for Ellis’s still soulful vocals and a brilliant way to start the album. It takes a few plays for the following song, Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Sitting in Limbo’, to hit the mark after such an affecting opening cut; dominated by Kevin Wallbank’s Hammond and with some neat guitar touches from Weller it’s an accomplished reading which features, as does that opening song and other tracks here, a slight gospel vibe. Imagine if the Stone Foundation had added their own soulful touch to John Schroeder’s ‘Soul Trek’, and Steve Ellis added his vocals to the tune and then shrouded the whole experiment with an almost spooky atmosphere; you’d be halfway there trying to explain the third track on ‘Boom! Bang! Twang!’ The Stone Foundation’s Neil Jones, Ian Arnold, Phillip K Ford and Neil Sheasby can all take some of the credit for this remarkable reading, but again it’s Ellis’s vocals that really steal the show. It’s simply breathtaking and one of the best things Ellis has done in years. Harsh Reality’s ‘Tobacco Ash Sunday’ is given a fresh coat. Wallbank’s Hammond keeps the song in line with the original, which was released the same year that Love Affair hit he charts with 'Everlasting Love'. There’s less of a Procol Harum/Traffic feel to this version, and, although the original was hardly devoid of any emotion now, Ellis has wrapped his soulful vocals round the lyrics and he takes ownership of the song. Mark and Maxine Boxall’s ‘Forever’ is a warm, irresistible soul number made all the more inviting by Maxine’s vocals, while a faithful cover of William Bell’s ‘I Forgot to Be Your Lover’ is a brave choice that once again has paid off in Ellis’s capable hands. The Ellis/Weller co-write ‘Lonely No More’ finds Ellis in Northern Soul mode, another departure on an album full of surprises and yet another success. Seeing Gerry Marsden’s ‘Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying’ listed on the cover was a little concerning and while, because of familiarity, the Gerry and The Pacemakers' version will probably always be the definitive version for many, both Ellis and Weller, not to mention (once again) Wallbank’s skill on the Hammond, leave their mark on the song. ‘Cry Me a River’ is another Ellis/Weller co-write, with Weller on piano, Steve Cradock on guitar and Andy Lewis on bass. There’s a funky, swampy Dr. John feel to the track. Mike D’Abo is one of our most underrated songwriters, so it’s nice to see his name on the credits, not only did D’Abo write ‘Glory Bound’ but he also plays piano on this gospel-flavoured ballad, the sparse backing ideally suited to the song. Ellis writes the closing track, ‘Oh Death’. It’s not only the most experimental song on this album, but it shows that we should never think that Steve Ellis, as soulful a vocalist as he is, should ever be slotted into one neat niche. It recalls some of Scott Walker’s work; Weller adds some chilling psych guitar touches and the song sends shivers down the listener’s spine. If, by ending the album with this song, Ellis is giving some indication of where he is heading next musically then his next album will be even more captivating than this set. Ellis may not be a prolific songwriter but when he delivers he really delivers. ‘Boom! Bang! Twang!’ is Steve Ellis’s strongest and most inspired solo album to date, no question.

Track Listing:-
1 Black Sheep Boy
2 Sitting In Limbo
3 Soul Trek (Holy Blue)
4 Tobacco Ash Sunday
5 Forever
6 I Forgot to Be Your Lover
7 Lonely No More
8 Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying
9 Cry Me a River
10 Glory Bound
11 Oh Death

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Interview (2008)
Steve Ellis - Interview
Malcolm Carter talks to Steve Ellis, the front man with chart topping 60's group the Love Affair, about his career as a 60's icon and his new solo album, 'The Best of Days'

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Best of Days (2008)
Fantastic new album from Steve Ellis, the front man with bestselling 60's group the Love Affair, which includes a guest appearance from Paul Weller

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