While his debut solo album, Here There’s No Sirens, didn’t stray too far from the alt-country path of Case Hardin, Leo sees a real musical swerve as he embraces his inner Meatloaf/Jim Steinman, especially in his enunciation and delivery, overlaid with The Dreaming Spires’ Memphis soul influences of producer Joe Bennett and veined with the narrative influences of Bukowski, with a plethora of orchestral epic drama numbers that concern the passing of time and getting older, that kick off in instantly infectious form with ‘Where Else Would We Be Going?’ with its thumping drums and ebullient horns contrasting the lyrics about ageing (“I know this skin feels old/And I never wash my makeup off at night”) but with a defiance to the spirit (“Even though there’s less to show/Than I’ve already seen/I can never be told/That it’s getting cold outside”) and, while he sings “I know I like to drink alone/And listen to my favourite records” he refuses to forget those “old ghosts/Whose breath that gently kisses us goodbye”.
A fanfare of exultant brass opens the bombastic piano and strings ‘Say It With Flowers’, arguably the most striking of the Meatloaf/Steinman parallels in both the musical structure and phrasing with its account of a turbulent drunken night (“These scratches on my arm/ Refuse to tell me how I got here/It must have been fun/Because those sirens don’t sound far/ Enough away that we can hide here”) as the booze loosens the tongue (“Can you keep a secret?/It’s just my style, I get drunk and reveal it”), the lyrics referencing Clapton’s ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ as he sings “It must be time for me to crawl across the floor to you“.
It’s not the only reference to other artists or the songwriting process, The Clash called upon as an unlikely romantic metaphor with the rolling, up-tempo ‘Side III Of London Calling’ (think ‘You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth’ spliced with ‘Dusty In Memphis’) which tells of a guy in the support band scoring with a woman who wants her CD signed as he declares “I’d stand up if I could keep from falling …for her… she’s just about as perfect/As Side III of ‘London Calling’” extending the metaphor as he drunkenly rolls into another gig with a crap house band (“Fucking my night of God given Rock n’ Roll”) where he’s “just about as welcome/As Side V of ‘Sandinista”.
The mood and tempo change for the slow sway organ and piano-accompanied, horns-coated ‘Casino’, a co-write with former Case Hardin member Jim Maving, furthering the album’s snapshots of losers, the lost and the lonely as the Leo of the album title, who runs his uncle’s money-laundering bar, offers the poignant portrait of one of its sad barflies whose lives has been washed way on the tide of drink, a life-bruised woman (“She lets her t- shirt fall from her shoulder/She lets a smoke ring go, then it curls back through her hair/It makes her look just a little bit older/It makes her feel like Hedy Lamarr”) who “exchanges her losses for lovers”.
Brass taking over from the acoustic strummed intro, ‘Both Sides Are Down’ switches time signatures between uptempo and slower passages coloured by ruminative horns, another snapshot of conflicts (“A jury of my peers/Shaken to their senses/Buckled by their fears”) repercussions (“Dominos fall/Chain reaction”) and an uncertain future (“Promises tendered, seldom deliver”). Another watering hole provides the seven minute plus centrepiece, as, founded on Bennett’s piano, strings and brass arrangement and with a novelist’s detail to the lyrics, narrated by Leo ‘Leonard’s Bar’ unfolds the story of his brother-in-law, a former criminal who, fallen on hard times (“There’s more goes out than ever comes in/We’re a month behind on everything”), with a third child on the way, agrees to do one final job for Leo’s uncle. When Leo arrives at the bar, he’s already there but “He won’t meet my stare/He just looks to the floor/Grabs a chair by the door on his own/All those years with no job/While his wife held down three/Must be hard on a man/That’s known the money he’s seen”) and, still tormented by memories of previous stick-ups (“guns scare me to much more/Than they once did/I can still hear their screams/And the smell of their fear/The piss in their pants/And their hopeless tears/But I can’t turn them off/And I can’t seem to sleep anymore”), declares he’ll only serve as the driver.
The final stretch starts with another catchy uptempo number, ‘Eight Long Hours’, another bar, another crumbling relationship (“If you can’t look at me and tell me/This ain’t the last time you’ll kiss me/It’s just the last time you’re kissing me goodbye”) and another faded beauty looking to grab one last chance at love (“All these boys in all these bars/All start to look the same/I just want you to want me/While they still say I’m pretty/Before they say I’m still pretty for my age”).
Before bowing out with a longer, stripped back, slow-paced reprise of the opening number, ‘This City Is A Symphony’, an Americana-coloured co-write with Bennett that conjures thoughts of Brian Wilson and Tom Petty alongside Steinman, again alludes to ageing (“This city is a symphony/Scored by dirty little pictures/Framed by fame/That needs you younger”) with its melancholic reflections on happier times (“His mind still wanders/Back to that hotel/Where her dress fell/And pooled at her feet like water”) as it delivers the bittersweet advice to “Be careful of the things you didn’t wish for/It still hurts when those wishes don’t come true”. Not the sort of album I was anticipating perhaps, but most certainly one that will figure in my best of the year.
Artist’s website: www.petegow.com
‘Where Else Would We Be Going?’:
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