Adventures In Pepperland is not to be sneezed at

Adventures In Pepperland is not to be sneezed at

Adventures In Pepperland is not to be sneezed at a great listen that may not be my usual fare, but it has a vibrancy and bounce that is nigh on irresistible and you can’t help but be drawn in and join in…great fun.

Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen that may not be my usual fare, but it has a vibrancy and bounce that is nigh on irresistible and you can’t help but be drawn in and join in…great fun.

I must admit I was wondering what the hell I’d received as I looked at the cover art of this CD: a cartoon countryside, populated by a guitar-toting walker, an Icarus figure flying (wisely) away from the sun, a seagull with a bikini top in its beak (a very large seagull as the rightful owner can be seen sunbathing sans top) and beer drinking chaps, uniformed in a violent green…and more: the artist is named as Pepperkid2 without mention of where Pepperkid1 is, and the album title is Adventures in Pepperland! However, you should never judge a CD by its cover and, once the personnel were revealed as Jem Davis along with fellow FM cohorts Steve Overland and Jim Kirkpatrick, plus a couple of Grand Slam members, I began to rest easy and look forward to some quality, varied music. (a warning to search engine users; this title is absolutely nothing to do with the US children’s clothing store or the Italian children’s ‘talent agency’.)

Jem explains the album’s inception: “In the Summer of 2020, during Lockdown, I moved to a cottage near Lutterworth that came with an amazing ready-built studio. Naming it ‘Electric Pepperland’, I immersed myself into my music, writing whatever inspired me. It soon became clear that there were many songs that didn’t fit the FM vibe and I needed to get them out there somehow, so under the guise of a project I called Pepperkid2 I set to work!” My initial thought was: a ready-built studio? Not many houses like that…mine is an iMac and my guitars in the dining room.)

So with that ethos and a band of serious quality, prepare for a mix of prog, pop, rock, the 70’s singles trend of relating complex stories in under four minutes…the sort of thing that that 10CC always managed to concoct. The only doubt I had was seeing no drummer and that clever Jem did all of the drum programming…this could be a car crash or, dependent on the skill and the program, virtually unnoticeable…we shall see.

Jem supplies twelve tracks with over seventy minutes running time: the opener, Pepperland, begins with a radio being tuned to a corny morning DJ and a cockerel proclaiming the sun has risen. The music arrives in a swirl of key generated melodies and a poppy feel as Jim Kirkpatrick sings unbearably happy lines about what you should wake up to…there’s plenty of humour too as Private Parts and Major Look feature in the lyrics. A bit too poppy on the first listen, but it has a depth that is waiting to be explored….and the drum programming is well-executed, so we can rest easy.

Next is another, heavier pop song with Mike Dyer singing well as the keys, unsurprisingly, provide the bulk of the melodies…this is The Otherside…a portentous title, although it is still very positive and even has Mr Blue Sky putting in an appearance…a clue there perhaps? London Bound? is full of clever lyrical twists and references as the city, it’s suggested, may not be that easy to live with…a soundtrack of helicopters and heavy breathing open the song and then it builds into a more proggy feel with lines like “Imaginarium of chaos fell apart, If you’re tired of this place, are you tired of life? Cos it’s not paved with gold, the currency is who you know.” Harsh but fair. The highlight is the first proper solo…and it is tasty Hammond, tastily played. The guitar is sampled, although sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Finding My Way brings in an almost gospel vocal from Hayley Simone while a lovely Hammond solo lifts it still further. It’s a slower piano backed ballad with a sort of 10CC feel but with a bit more drama! Voodoo is my current favourite as, after a synth solo, it has the rarely used, often abused voice box guitar to bring a different edge, courtesy of Nigel Spennewyn. Here is a man of many talents: he’s played with Elkie Brooks, Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker; he has worked for Chandler Guitars, Fender, Line 6 and Korg, and is currently with Suhr Guitars as well as being in a covers band, The Way Back. It is more riff-led and a little heavier and the lyrics are suitably snarled as “human hair on waxen dolls” builds the tension. Fire me Up is a Hammond riff-driven track with the moog synth employed in all its glory…another often misused instrument but Jem channels his inner Wakeman and keeps it musical. It has bluesy rock roots and works very well. And you just have to agree with the message: “Swing like a wrecking ball, against the wall, they built to hide; Comb over Jesus turning water into brine. No qualifications, United Nations, you just divide us. There is no T in China gonna ethnic cleanse the palate of this brave new world.” Powerful stuff.

After the Rain is a proggy slice of proggy loveliness with Grand Slam man Lawrence Archer supplying some neat guitar over the Yes like structure if it were tinged in a shade of current Purple. Behind the Glass borrows, lyrically, from Alice’s Adventures all built around a Beatles patterned song: piano and simple rhythm guitar back this allegorical tale, while Nigel manages to make his short solo very George indeed. Fools Lullaby is also a bit Beatles but also has echoes of the Eagles as the ballad is perfectly suited to the vocals of the great Steve Overland….including all the harmonies. The piano solo, however, for me, is the highlight with its delicacy and touch.

Allow to Let Go is pure poppiness and uses many and varied keyboard generated instruments…I think I even heard subtle steel drums. The big bonus is the slide guitar solo by Mr Spennewyn. Breath of Life brings the pandemic into focus as lines such as “Helpless in our lockdown state of mind” sum it up, but then Jem keeps it positive with “A shot of hope is all we need.” Something Gotta Give wraps the album up with a (shudder!) Christmassy song hidden behind the pandemic related lyrics in which Santa’s in quarantine and Rudolph has lost his sense of taste and smell…fortunately, because of the message of the difficult Christmas we all had in 2020, it doesn’t descend into mawkishness and, even the Dyer choir isn’t too out of place. The saviour is, however, the fascination of identifying all of the sound effects that Jem has generated…it does add a bit of fun to the proggy pop extravaganza.

This may not be my usual fare, but it has a vibrancy and bounce that is nigh on irresistible and you can’t help but be drawn in and join in…great fun. As Jem says in the CD booklet: “Dive on in and your (sic) bound to find something you like!! So, sit back, make yourself a Pepper sandwich. Disengage from the world for an hour and take a trip with me into ‘Pepperland!!!” His enthusiasm for exclamation marks is only exceeded by the enthusiasm he has obviously poured into this album.

Adventures In Pepperland is not to be sneezed at

Tracklisting:
Pepperland
The Otherside
London Bound?
Finding My Way
Voodoo
Fire me Up
After the Rain
Behind the Glass
Fools Lullaby
Allow to Let Go
Breath of Life
Something Gotta Give

Musicians:
Jem Davis: keyboards, vocals
Mike Dyer (Grand Slam): vocals
Laurence Archer (Grand Slam): guitars
Jim Kirkpatrick: guitars
Steve Overland: vocals
Nigel Spennewyn (Elkie Brooks): guitars
Hayley Simone, Jesse, Phoenix and Florence Dyer: backing vocals

Connect with Jem Davis across SOCIAL MEDIA
Official Website
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(iTunes took me next to the recent, classy Melodic Rock of Perfect Plan from the 2018 All Rise album…polished and tasty, Bad City Woman.)

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