Many of us who are passionate about music keep and update lists. Lists of music we like, lists of music we want, lists of music for year-end "best of" posts. Despite such lists, sometimes my year-end list misses an album. Maybe I didn't hear it enough before the end of the year, or maybe I had it written down, starred and underlined on one list and neglected to transfer it to the master list (there may be too many lists around here). Both reasons exist with respect to God Bless Jim Kennedy by Phil Wilson (the former front man for the seminal 80s band the June Brides). In addition to Phil, the band consists of Arash Torabi and Andy Fonda, both of whom are solo artists, as well, with help from June Brides alums Jon Hunter and Frank Sweeney.
I'd heard a few tracks from the album in November 2010, the month of its release, and fully intended to follow up and listen to the entire thing. And I did--this week. How good is it? If I'd listened to the album in 2010 it would have made my top ten albums of the year. You know when sometimes you listen to an album and you hear a song that just makes you sit up and say "that's a really, really special song"? Well, that happened to me at least five times on God Bless Jim Kennedy. Moreover, those five special songs are surrounded by a whole album of good songs.
Let's discuss what the album sounds like, while you listen to the video for the final track, "I Own It":
If Phil had been playing it safe, the sound would have been either Postcard Records-era 80s indie pop, or, perhaps, slow-tempo singer songwriter pieces from an artist trying to remind his old fans that he had a voice. Well, God Bless Phil Wilson, because what we got instead is, to my ears, a joyous fusion of The Byrds and other 60s Los Angeles bands, and Big Star-like powerpop, with a more modern guitar pop finish. There are guitars, harmonies, some horns and a few well placed strings, a little flamenco guitar, and maybe a little hint of Roy Orbison. The album starts out strongly in the powerpop vein, has a strong middle and finishes with three songs (including the wonderful "Pop Song #23") that one reviewer termed the album's "Amen corner". As an instrument, Phil's voice isn't the instrument that his guitar is, but he is convincing and his bandmates provide excellent vocal support.
This is an band that is doing what it is capable of doing well, but it isn't playing it safe. Overall, I get the sense of joy -- upon listening, I'm convinced that this isn't a band that is saying "we need to get this done", but rather "wow, we get to do this".
My only regret in this review is that I don't have more album tracks to share with you. I highly recommend that you click on the Myspace link below and choose "Pop Song #32" to hear one of the 60s tinged highlights of the album. And while the format doesn't provide the audio quality necessary to truly appreciate the recorded product on the album, I've included a couple live versions of the album tracks for those interested.
"Three Days" (live)
"Up to London"
Phil Wilson Website
Phil Wilson Facebook
Phil Wilson Myspace
For those not familiar with Phil's career, his June Brides were an important part of the 80s guitar pop scene in the UK from 1984-1986. Their punky energy and jangly guitars planted a foot in each of the Josef K and Creation Records camps. They toured with The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Mekons, and the Wedding Present. One LP stood at the top of the charts for a good while. Teenage Fanclub, Franz Ferdinand, Manic Street Preachers and Belle and Sebastian all consider the June Brides to be an influence on their work.
June Brides "Just the Same"