Album review: Danny & the Champions of The World – Brilliant Light

 

Brilliant Light blazes in with a signature electric guitar intro by the unflappable Paul Lush. The lyrics of Waiting For The Right Time are a statement of intent: “I remembered love is everything/I’m gonna find my way.” What follows is a journey of searching, discovery, love and loss led by flawless musicianship. This 18 track epic is clearly a tour de force.

Danny and the Champions of the World

Anyone familiar with Danny and The Champions of The World knows that they’re a talented collective. Anyone not better get ready for a crash course. The instrumental line of Bring Me To My Knees, ringing with Henry Senior Jr.’s pedal steel, could easily have earned a place on Senior Jr.’s superb debut album, Plates Of Meat.

Pedal Steel Guitar

It Hit Me has a signature Champs retro vibe that is surprisingly current; the exuberant brass parts are reminiscent of Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. It’s a sound that resurfaces later on the record, notably in Long Distance Tears.

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Of course, this isn’t an instrumental album. In fact, it contains some of Danny George Wilson’s best vocal work. Wrapped in Doo-wop harmonies, Wilson’s voice in It Hit Me expresses the vulnerability and regret of the lyrics. The vocal in You’ll Remember Me is both tender and tenacious. It’s a moving song that could well anchor a funeral or memorial service.

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The album’s first single, Swift Sweet, is powerful in its simplicity. Ostensibly, it’s descriptions of family photographs: “I’m not trying to see the big picture/I’m just looking at a picture of you.” However, the song is remarkably evocative of a time, a place and a feeling. A few swift touches set the scene – Brylcreem, bottle deposits and family brimming with pride.

Danny George Wilson

A third of a way through it becomes clear that Brilliant Light represents incredible value. Track 6, Consider Me, is worth the price of the album alone, so you basically get the other 17 tracks for free. It has it all: an insistent riff, a killer bass line, strong vocals and singalong lyrics balancing hope and realism: “you just need to have some faith/and my heart is true/I can’t promise I won’t have my moments…maybe we’ll fall apart/maybe we’ll be amazing.” This is the Champs at their best. This is music at its best!

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Coley Point is part atmospheric, part poetic – “we got each other’s arms to pull ourselves below” – but mostly psychological experiment. Don’t believe me? Give it a few spins and see how long before you start unconsciously adding ‘on Coley Point’ to the end of your sentences…on Coley Point.

Danny and the Champions of the World

It’s Just A Game (That We Were Playing) is back in classic Champs territory. It’s a joyous, raucous stomper that would be an out of control mess with less skillful instrumentation behind it.

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Never In The Moment follows in the same vein, tying together earlier sonic and lyrical themes. There are exuberant brass parts, pedal steel, a lush Lush solo, and lyrics balancing simplicity, realism and hard truths. Instead of grand metaphors and overwrought sentimentality, a failed relationship is described with refreshing candour and everyday imagery: “[You were] down the road looking back to see if a better offer walked through the door/but I needed you in the here and now/not with an arm in the coat and a foot out the door.”

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A few tracks later, Don’t Walk Away starts out like a response to Never In The Moment: “I got nothing to say to you/You didn’t tell me you were leaving.” However, the protagonist is soon revealed as more introspective and sensitive than one unashamedly on the hunt for something better. The song mirrors the conflicted and conflicting emotions of a breakup: “I got nothing to say to you/You just left me to my grieving/And I could keep it all in/But all I wanna do is shout it all out/don’t walk away.” There are subtle sweet harmonies underneath; it’s easy to picture label mate Joana Serrat taking on the role and doing it justice live.

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Gotta Get Things Right In My Life is relaxing with repetition and humming with luscious pedal steel. Waiting For The Wheels To Come Off  and Hey Don’t Lose Your Nerve are similarly hypnotic, with beautiful imagery, such as: “sun coming up on Gipsy Hill and the sound of the city song.”

Everything We Need and Long Distance Tears will make you smile if you’re familiar with The Champs’ live performance. Fairly subtle on record, live in a dive bar they’d be transformed into a joyous singalong jams.

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The Circus Made The Town is an interesting one. It’s seemingly simple and not the most obvious topic for a song. I mean, there are clowns. Clowns! It bears repeating though. It’s remarkably cutting on close listening, starting with “it seems we can go on without you after all” and leading to “I could see beyond the romance of the road and I believe you never could.” Ouch! Quite a way to undermine the importance of the big man at the Big Top.

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Flying By The Seat of Our Pants ties the album together, recapping earlier instrumentation, tones and themes. It touches on accepting uncertainty, embracing change and trusting in love. True to form for an album that describes an ongoing journey, Danny proclaims “I know there’s still so many adventures beyond our door.” Playing the album on repeat – as you’ll want to do – leads right back to track 1 and the statement: “I ain’t hiding behind my door/I’m gonna find my way.” Do yourself a favour and find your way to a record store right now. You won’t regret it.

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Brilliant Light is out now on CD or LP, available with a bonus instrumental album, Photogene. 

Danny and The Champs will tour in September, supported by label mates William The Conqueror. Visit dannyandthechamps.com for full details.

For more album reviews, and concert reviews and photos, follow me:
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