'private i (The Archives: Vol. 1)'
Who'd of thunk it? Rock powerhouse vocalist Graham Bonnet had a serious past before he flew over the Rainbow with Ritchie Blackmore to become many great guitarists' voice in the remaining years of the twentieth century and he's just now released a tremendously cool archive of some previously unreleased earlier efforts.
His hardcore fans may be perplexed by this release but its real audience should be the fans of bands like The Beatles, The Kinks, Big Star, early Bee Gees, and other purveyors of gorgeous pop nuggets. Great melodies, the expected fantastic vocal range and dynamics, big keys, strings, and most surprisingly some stunningly adventurous songwriting. This is a lost treasure of time, and I guess better late than never applies.
This album goes a long way towards explaining why Bonnet was once offered the lead vocalist position in Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra. 'private i (The Archives: Vol. 1)' is an iTunes release at this point, and I'd recommend you buy it. Now.
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Some very Badfinger-ish slide guitar announces the opener 'Here Comes The Rain' and you can really hear a very deep love for the best of Phil Spector on these grooves. It's very straight ahead Brill Building pop until the bridge/middle eight arrives, and we get a string section that is right out of the George Martin textbook of textures and swirls, and Bonnet wraps his voice around them wonderfully.
'What's The 'Ere Then' is the album's best cut for my money and it's an absolute direct line to why Lynne may have wanted Graham's services. This is a master class in vocal arrangement - the background vocals are all Bonnet, and they're sublime. He even takes the tune from straight pop into some very 60s sounding sophisticated gymnastic that have a big kitsch level, but that's much of the fun. Reminds me a bit of Leo Sayer's better moments.
Acoustic guitar jangle and a big bass drum accompany Bonnet on the very McCartney-esque 'Private Eye', and it's a great trip through a music hall adventure. Now I completely understand Bonnet better as an artist. He's always maintained that the hard side of rock found him, and not the other way around, and he sounds much, much more natural in these settings (mind you, I've always loved his rock output, as well).
Clocking in at eight minutes long the song suite 'Let Me Off This Time/Saturday's Over covers a tremendous amount of ground, and it's stunning. Brilliantly executed pop that changes direction effortlessly - this is an almost Meatloaf/Steinman type production, then it cuts into a bass driven piano and guitar jaunt, and you have to hang on tight, but it's a hell of a good ride.
I feel like I've found the best unreleased album of the 70s, and I'm pretty sure I have. I almost cry when I think of how disheartening it must have been to not see this released until now.
'Back In The Stalls' is goosebumps good. It's all orchestra and horns with Graham's vocal histrionics coming from the direction of Broadway. This is for music lovers - it covers so much ground, but it does it so well that I'm a bit stunned. Truly beautiful.
McCartney's influence shows on the reggae bop of the silly/fun 'She May Not Be Much To Look At (But She Sure Does Has A Heart)'. Makes me want a boat drink and a spliff. The vocal arrangements are simply some of the best I've ever heard, and the skronky guitar and bubbly, booming bass fit perfectly with the vibes and accordions. Yup, I just wrote that.
If you can hear the first notes of 'Ade's Song' and are not moved, you may be dead. Great electric piano and a strummed acoustic guitar ring in this soft number, and it's another mind blower. This is marvelous - more cool and elaborate production abounds, and did I mention that you have to buy this album?
'Mamma Mine' sounds like a Wings outtake with it's big echo and chunky guitar chords. The musicianship across the whole of this album is just ripping my mind apart in the very best possible way. When the strings come in they are brilliantly conceived and executed, and Bonnet's double tracked lead vocal is perfect. A sax solo? Get out of here, but it's damned divine.
Jazz appears on Relax (Jazz Me), and it a very straight play - not like jazz, not jazz rock, this is great supper club jazz from a decadent era long since gone. How this album was never released is beyond me. Can you say closet classic? Bonnet's voice is better than I've ever heard it in this context, and I'd give anything to hear this record played live. It should be the hottest show somewhere.
Beach Boys? Sure, why not. Covering even more ground we get some surfy guitar chording, more great vocal arranging, and fun. 'Don't Drink The Water' kind of let's me know how record company people may not have known with this album, and that's such a shame.
'Dreams (Out In The Forest)' is back to the wall of sound, and Bonnet is cutting loose with some in the orbit high notes, and his tones are pristine. The writing is top, top notch and again the arrangement is just great. If you think I'm going over the top here, it's because I'm hearing it and you're not - so go fix this. Click on iTunes and by this damned thing, will ya? My hyperbole has never been better placed. I'm on this like a cheap suit, and shouting it from the treetops - this is a great, great album.
We see the end come in the form of the do-wop inflected 'We're Free'. My only complaint is that it's too short, and I still have the album ringing in my consciousness, and I think it might stay there for a while.
'private i (The Archives: Vol. 1)' is something that I certainly didn't see coming. This is far and away the best Bonnet I have ever heard - but, don't go into this thinking Bonnet. Go into it thinking Beatles. This is not hard rock, but it sure as hell is great music. Wow, really, really great music.