Tuesday, 13 May 2014

REVIEW: Cam Cole, Contribute

Cover photo: Ken Odibe

Cam Cole, Contribute, 2014

For anyone familiar with the Camden gig circuit – or indeed anyone prone to lurking around the West End of an afternoon or evening – you may have already seen Cam Cole in action, whether as frontman of previous band, Cameron Cole & the RS, or as London’s busking, ‘dancing guitarist’. Born in the south of England before moving to Jersey aged 13, Cam moved to London when he was 19 where he cut his teeth playing alongside several experienced jam musicians in Cameron Cole & the RS. A bootleg CD and a stack of gigs later and the RS went its separate ways, but despite haemorrhaging band members – and, indeed, letters in his name – this solo debut loses nothing of the rebellious blues spirit and energy that has always defined Cam Cole’s song writing and performances.

I should say from the off that Contribute is mightily impressive as a piece of work before we even press play because Cam himself is responsible for near enough everything on the album. Bar a bit of drumming on ‘Some Blues’, all the music is played by Cam and he is responsible for all the songs too, as well as the recording of the material.

When it comes to his ‘contribution’ to the album, this is a one-man effort, a true testament to his devoted busking schedule which sees him playing to the public from Bankside to Leicester Square. However, forget images of Dick Van Dyke with his dodgy cockney accents, Step In Time harmonicas and snare drums rigged up to ankles, this is a updated arrangement, albeit a very DIY one, where Cam’s trusty jumble sale guitar is fed into an amp along with some foot pedals housed in a customized vintage suitcase.

I only mention this set-up in so far as it directly feeds into the music on this fourteen-track album, which the musician claims was a result of the development of his solo busking routine. Furthermore, it goes a long way to explaining the bloody single-mindedness of the content’s execution, and you get the sense that a number of the finished guitar parts were live takes, such is the energy of their raw, ‘live’ quality. Sure, the recording is a little rough around the edges, but that’s almost the point.

‘Evolution’ kicks the album off in a suitably punk vein, although the stuttered vocals are a step away from earlier incarnations of this song – both live and on the aforementioned bootleg – and the almost ‘radio broadcast’ quality of their delivery sets the tone for the rest of the album. Effectively this is a song about brains over brawn, but the execution is so damn physical that it’s exhausting just listening to it.

‘Truth Be Told’ saunters the album into blues shuffle territory, though not without certain psychedelic guitar moments, a bit like a young White Stripes on the ears. There are echoes of this in subsequent songs like ‘Some Blues’ and ‘So Tired’, both of which pay respect to Cam’s musical infatuations, the former of which has a bit of a jazz lounge quality to it. In a good way. ‘Stronger’ on the other hand, along with ‘Oh You’ and ‘Angel’, offer us a glimpse into a considerably more pop, though by no means One Direction-style, Cam Cole, but their placement can feel a little at odds with the tracks around them. ‘Stronger’ does however sustain one of the key lyrical themes of the album, that of personal strength and empowerment, which ‘Mirror Mirror’ and ‘So Tired’ also reference. In case you weren’t fully aware that Cam is a one-man army (opposed to a Seven Nation one), he’s sure as hell going to keep reminding you.

The pace doesn’t let up in ‘The Doctor’ which sees the guitar practically roaring out of the speakers like a Sonics song, but ‘Angry’ on the other hand, and ironically, structures itself around simple blues riffs interspersed with more acoustic breakdowns which perhaps pay homage to the musician’s love of Fleetwood Mac.

‘Tyler Durden’ too is a real celebration of Cam’s musicianship, especially his guitar wizardry, which is amazingly skilled and even more impressive for its dexterity and ability to shift from full-throttle rock to elegant blues and then to softer acoustica, all on the same album.

Sometimes, it feels like there is a little bit too much going on in terms of the territory that Cam manages to cover on this record. However, this is less of a criticism and more of a comment on Cam’s unwillingness to get stuck in a single genre or way of playing. Ultimately this is a really fabulous accomplishment and an ideal calling card for Cam Cole and his audiences, both paying and ‘just passing by’.

To hear more from Cam Cole, check out the interview conducted with him last month via BSTV’ YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7DbpJKyTLU

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