Up to now, I was more aware of Pete McClelland as co-founder of Hobgoblin Music – a company that has provided me with several very decent instruments in recent years – than as a recording artist, but I was happy to get the opportunity to hear his latest CD The Way Back To You, a very pleasant collection of his songs (mostly) inspired by his many trips across the USA. His own vocals, mandolin and acoustic guitar are supported here by John Rain and Mike Joyce (bass), Tom Phelan (Rhodes), Jason Pegg (piano), Pat Severs (guitars, dobro, pedal steel), Chris Leuzinger (electric guitar), Denis Holt (drums), Angèle Veltmeier (saxophone) and Tigar Bell (fiddle). Here’s the track list.
- ‘The Way Back To You’ strongly features pedal steel, but sounds less “country” than you might expect. A pleasant ballad.
- I’ve spent a few happy hours in music stores around San Francisco – sadly, my favourite is long gone – so it makes perfect sense to me that a Californian store inspired ‘Capritaurus’. The song (like ‘Song For Cody’ and indeed the whole album) is dedicated to a recently-deceased friend. There are certainly worse ways to be remembered than in songs that hark back to good memories. Nice lead guitar and sax on this one.
- ‘Song For Cody’ is in the same mood of West Coast reminiscence as the second track: it suits Pete’s voice very well, with an interesting melodic twist here and there. Particularly nice instrumentation, too.
- ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ is a quirky angle on a memory of nearly drowning on the coast of Oregon.
- ‘Back To The Mountains’ is a “fictional love song” inspired by a stay in Yosemite.
- ‘Blue Moon Rising’ has a melancholic feel right from the dobro introduction. It’s a rather attractive story song, maybe my favourite on the album.
- ‘Just Call On Me’ is very country in concept and execution.
- ‘She Was Born In The USA’ is another story song about the fragmentation of families. It has some atmospheric slide guitar and an efficient hook, and the story will ring bells for many parents.
- ‘The East Side Of Town’ refers to the East suburbs of London, and even with the prominent pedal steel, is less influenced by Americana. It has a particularly strong chorus.
- ‘Take Your Chances’ leans heavily on the positivity pedal, and we all need a little of that these days. Pete’s use of his lower register is particularly effective on this track.
- ‘123456789’ was intended to have a 50s feel, and fully meets that brief with some perky sax breaks. Pastiche, but it works very well.
- ‘Last Train To San Fernando’ is the only cover on the album, and one of the first songs I ever remember hearing on the radio, sung by Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys (pause for reminiscence about Saturday Skiffle Club!). While the insert notes attribute the song to Randolph Padmore and Sylvester Devere, it seems to have been based on a 1940’s calypso by Trinidad’s Carlton Joseph Gumbs (a.k.a. The Mighty Spitfire) about the line between Port of Spain and San Fernando in Trinidad, not the San Fernando in California. Pete has added some words of his own to this version, and while they sound more California than Trinidad, they don’t do it any harm. However, what really lifts the track is some athletic fiddle, aided and abetted by some atmospheric pedal steel.
- ‘California Song’ is described in the insert as “a little bit of breaking bad, a little bit of Cheech and Chong, and something of the Southern California desert…” There’s certainly something of all that, not to mention a whiff of Leone and Morricone and The Shield.
- ‘Lonesome Road’ is the only other song on the album not credited to McClelland on his own, as the tune and a fragmentary lyric were originally written by John Rain. It’s an attractive waltz tune
In principle, I’m all in favour of English artists avoiding a mid-Atlantic accent, but (and I hate myself for mentioning it) sometimes Pete’s very English vocal delivery is slightly at odds with the instrumentation and genre. It’s particularly noticeable on ‘San Fernando’, which is clearly influenced by the Johnny Duncan hit. Still, Pete has a pleasant voice, there are some decent songs and lots of good playing to enjoy. I’d be interested to hear what he does with vocal material that has less emphasis on Americana.
Artist’s website: www.petemcclelland.com