First album review: Sounds. “Five stars and a Nobel Prize”

‘KOKOMO’ (CBS 80670)

Kokomo album sleeve
THE EVOLUTION has been interesting – both Kokomo as a band and the musicians who joined together to form it. Arrival always seemed a band with plenty of musical strength and ideas, but without a path. The Grease Band, particularly the Spenner/Hubbard team, have long been among my favourite British musicians, but inclined to be erratic. Mel Collins, whilst not denying his talent, had never found a home both secure and wide enough, and tended to be an itinerant horn player jumping through other people’s hoops.

I felt much the same about Terry Stannard, though had Uncle Dog lasted I’m sure he’d have found it a good home. But Kokomo has provided the ideal base for a number of differing and strong-minded musicians – it started off loose enough to attract them all, and together they have built it into a cohesive band that is still broad in scope. Inevitably they have been dubbed a White Soul Band and compared with the Average Whites: but where the AWB seem faithfully to follow the (admittedly wide) Atlantic tradition, Kokomo possess and use a much larger phrase book.

What could have been their downfall has become their main. strength: the juxtaposition of several sources and several heavy egos, the delicate balancing of five singers, five soloists and five songwriters in different permutations, could have been an unholy mess: as it turned out, it adds strength and variety to everything they touch.

Alan Spenner’s loping, beautifully phrased ‘I’m Sorry Babe’ sits quite happily alongside Tony O’Malley’s smoothly fluent ‘Feeling this way’, ‘which leads naturally to Frank Collins’ wailing high over a strong riff on ‘Sweet Sugar Thing’; Caroline Franklin’s ‘Angel’, with exquisite solo by Mel, sounds custom made for Paddy McHugh, and Neil Hubbard’s ‘Anytime’ provides the band with a frame that demonstrates just how strong the alliance can be: Tony and Dyan Birch alternate verses to display the band’s full voice spectrum.

Terry and Jodv Linscott (congas) complement each other perfectly, as do Neil and Jim Mullen on guitars, all of them combining to provide a rich tight but flexible rhythm track that glows with vibrant but controlled energy. That’s the key – no one holds back, but no one is trying to elbow-to the front. Five stars and a Nobel prize.

Steve Peacock – Sounds