‘Innocent Bystanders’ – James Warren (New CD – review ****)

Stackridge/Korgis stalwart James Warren has just released his third solo album on Angel Air Records – eighteen years after his previous solo effort. In the meantime, though, James has not been idle, recording and playing live with the reformed Stackridge, who used the time to produce the album ‘Victory For Common Sense’ – their best overall effort after 1973’s ‘The Man In The Bowler Hat’. So the man has pedigree as a performer and a songwriter : this is the man who, after all, wrote the two world class gems ‘Something About the Beatles’ (for Stackridge) and ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ (The Korgis’ smash 1980 hit).

So what of his latest offering? In the sleevenotes, James explains that his aim was to ‘write a bunch of songs that might be coverable’. I would say that he’s pretty much met his aim with this bunch of mainly lively vignettes. Despite being very clear in the notes that he is unlikely to work with fellow Stackridge and Korgis mainstay Andy Davis in the future, it is maybe no coincidence that two of the best songs here – ‘That’s What You Do To Me’ and ‘Have You Seen The Colours?’ – are co-authored with Davis, with whom James has worked on and off for the best part of 50 years. The latter song is the closest in style that the album gets to Stackridge; otherwise it is much closer to what you could imagine The Korgis sounding like thirty-five years on. For ‘You’ve Got The Love That Matters’ James even brings in fellow Korgis vocalist John Baker to share the vocals with him on a lush little affair beautifully produced by production supremo David Lord. But James saved the album’s masterpiece till the very end – ‘I Just Want You To tell Me’ (co-authored with Stackridge multi-instrumentalist Glenn Tommey) could have been written by Paul McCartney at his most creative. It’s that good; I hope that lifetime Beatles fan James would appreciate the compliment.

I’ve docked a star for one reason alone – 33 minutes of playtime seems a bit mean in these days of being able to fit 70 minutes onto a single disc. Or am I just being greedy because what is here is so good??

James and his band are playing a gig at the Rondo in Bath on Sunday 26th November : on the strength of this (and, of course, James’ songwriting virtuosity over the past fifty years) I suggest you get down there for what could be a notably fun experience.

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