Last year – although it seems much longer – Phil Odgers released Uke Town, a double CD of demos in preparation for a “proper” album. If you haven’t heard them I recommend that album but some of those songs appear now on Ghosts Of Rock N Roll alongside two new tracks. The demos were recorded in a spirit of experimentation and Phil was playing in his new ukulele – now we have a tight band recorded in James Knight’s studio. Guests include Sid Griffin, Pete Billington, Bobby Valentino and Al Cherry taking a break from his usual jazz and blues and making a big impact.
The set opens with one of the new songs: the single, ‘The Serpent, The Maiden And The Bear’, inspired by a spot of star-gazing as Phil contemplates our place in the universe all dressed up with Al’s banjo. We are brought back to earth by the second new song, Phil Ochs’ ‘Flower Lady’. This is a wonderful piece of writing encompassing old age, poverty and the uncaring nature of society without ever being strident.
Phil has long had a penchant for covers and there are several on Uke Town but after ‘Flower Lady’ he eases us in with ‘Brooklyn Bridge’, with words from poet Joe Solo. It’s a poignant song about a man whose memories of the past are more real than those of the immediate present and held together by one tangible object – a fridge magnet depicting the titular bridge. ‘The Last Thing On My Mind Is Regret’ was a bit Paxton-ish in its demo form but here Phil gives it a harder edge and a reggae beat. The title track tells of the dangers of Mr Rock N Roll but Phil doesn’t seem too unhappy about being within his grasp. Still a punk at heart?
The only surviving cover is Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’. It might seem an odd choice but it finds Phil in full cowboy mode, which suits him, with Billington’s piano and Valentino’s fiddle giving it just enough of a country feel without being kitsch. It’s a really good version of the song. ‘The Desert Has A 1000 Eyes’ is an odd song with Phil in the Egyptian desert experiencing a daydream or a mirage. It sounds good but I don’t really want to give a definite opinion as to what it’s really about.
‘Empty Streets & Lovers In The Rain’ is a co-write with Robb Johnson with just enough politics and a knockout guitar break over a chunky rhythm and doo-wop backing vocals. I guess that ‘Uke Town’ is a song of the urban jungle, the sort of place that you or I will never visit and decorated by Knight’s saxophone while the final ‘Rage Against The Machine’ feels like the sound of a fist raised in anger against the system.
I really think that Ghosts Of Rock N Roll is Phil’s best solo album. Maybe it’s the time away from live performance, maybe it’s the work that has gone into the preparation of the songs but the record feels alive as if Phil is straining at the leash to get out there again.
Artist’s website: www.swillodgers.co.uk
‘The Serpent, The Maiden And The Bear’: