PP Arnold never quite became the global soul superstar she deserved to be, despite that rich, wounded voice giving the defninitive rendition of Cat Stevens’ ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ and Chip Taylor’s ‘Angel Of The Morning’. Her voice may grace albums by music’s biggest names over the last five decades, yet The New Adventures Of PP Arnold is only her third proper solo release.
Thankfully, a 25-year friendship with producer Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene) brings the full splendour of Arnold’s voice back to the spotlight once again. And it’s a joy to hear that her voice has lost none of its emotion or power on this eclectic set of 15 songs which largely constitute a plushly orchestral homage to Arnold’s 60s and 70s heyday. Yet nothing feels ersatz here, it’s an album with a distinctly contemporary twinkle in its eye.
Cradock wrote a number of the songs, like opener, ‘Baby Blue’, a lush, Phil Spector-ish poppy soul and ‘The Magic Hour’, which borrows from the Lee Hazlewood songbook. Whereas ‘Still Trying’ feels like a big production number from musical theatre, all chimes and swing, ‘Finally Found My Way Back Home’, co-written with Arnold, is an unexpectedly sassy, percussive, sinuous blues.
Arnold also contributes her own songs, some co-written with her son. There’s the slinky blues of ‘Though It Hurts Me Badly’ and the fine slice of early 70s-style funk, ‘I Believe’. Different again is ‘Hold On To Your Dreams’, where that epic voice soars over a swaggering, blaxploitation-like funk, that also tips a wink to Inner City’s ‘80s dance hit ‘Good Life’.
Covers include a classy pop pair from Paul Weller, ‘Daltry St’ with it’s slowed-down That’s Entertainment-ish intro, Mike Nesmith’s brightly marriage-shy ‘Different Drum’, and ‘You Got Me’ with its crashing piano and Arnold darkly way down in her range.
But, the elephant in the folk room must be the version of Sandy Denny’s ‘I’m A Dreamer’. Whilst sounding quite unalike, both women have that husky catch, that honesty and a voice that powers up effortlessly. It makes a stunning powerhouse showcase for Arnold, culminating with its swelling, uplifting brass.
The album winds down with a jaw-dropping rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie’ – the rap lovechild of 50s beat poetry that whips through jazz, ‘70s funk and ‘80s new wave (think Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ or Talking Heads’ ‘Once In A Lifetime’) before finally coming to rest in electronic bleepery and a ferocious brass fanfare.
The final song – the only place it could be – is a tender tribute to Arnold’s late daughter, Debbie, delivered in an intimate gospel style with Exeter Cathedral’s organ and an elegant harp adornment.
The New Adventures Of PP Arnold is so plainly a labour of love for all involved, her voice is clearly still in superb shape and she’s ready to seize her rightful soul diva crown. Don’t miss her UK tour in October.
Artist website: www.pparnold.com
‘Different Drum’ – live on TV: