Netherlands-based Leo Koster has been gigging around Europe for a number of years and, with his band, has released a couple of well-received albums, including the tantalisingly titled Gigs, Licks and Chicks. His music has been classed as blues or country but, in this latest release, he has gone down the country, blues and rock route with an affectionate tribute to one of his favourite artists. When he heard the first Byrds album in 1965 he was impressed most by the songs written and sung by Gene Clark, one of the founding members. Clark stayed with the Byrds for just a year and a half and then, after a brief time with Dillard & Clark and the Flying Burrito Brothers went out on his own, where he continued to write but his solo career never really took off. He produced a string of solo albums, tried a reunion album with the Byrds, before he succumbed to substance abuse. This, combined with his fear of flying and unpredictable behaviour prevented any success, regardless of ability, and he died in 1991, only 46 years old, because of associated health problems.
On Leo’s tribute, called simply …Sings Gene Clark, we get a dozen Clark compositions interpreted in inventive and affectionate ways: starting with Echoes Leo shows that he is not hampered by imagination as he replaces the orchestra on the original with Dobro…the country tones generated by the metal body and bottleneck sound really good and his voice is perfectly suited to this style. The lyrics are typical Clark and well worth paying attention to too. All the while the Dobro sounds lovely and the short solo pieces are delightful. For A Spanish Guitar is next and, again, Leo goes different by injecting an effective slice of atmospheric fiddle and accordion backing that actually works. The acoustic backing is quite complex and worth concentrating on behind the vocals: even the accordion solo is clever. Fair And Tender Ladies is awash with pedal steel to expand on the sound of the original while Leo’s acoustic picks crystalline single notes throughout, and the duets where that style joins directly with the pedal steel is a surprising slice of genius. Boston is new to most as it was a demo for the Byrds first album and I have no idea how Leo got his hands on it, but its intro and basic melody sound as though The Monkees got their paws on it too! It’s a decent bit of soft rock with the accordion having an incongruous appearance before a surf guitar attack short solo. So You Say You Lost Your Baby has complexity behind its simplicity as this soft rock treatment benefits most from the electric guitar work, both picked and slide. Set You Free This Time is country rock of quality…the tale telling backed by pedal and electric guitar is just as it should be for this genre. It has an infectious lilt to it that you soon find yourself singing along to and the short solo fits better than the original. American Dreamer is a bit back porch country blues as the Dobro and mandolin combine to provide a great soundtrack to the story of “ a lonely dreamer”. She Don’t Care About Time is more Dobro to a beat that Three Dog Night must have nicked…it is atmospheric and well played, although the incongruity of the accordion jars rather than complements to my ear. She Darked The Sun has always been a damn good song, and Leo puts the (soft) rock into the country on this version. It is the template for so many performers in this genre right up to the present day. Another pedal and electric duet is really tight and entertaining. With Tomorrow is more my cup of wine, with a languorous beat and picked guitars echoing around a story that has echoes too. The slide and harmonica sound just great. Only Colombe is another one the Monkees borrowed as we get a lovey lyrical story over the jangling guitars…it shows even more how Clark could damn well write: with lines like “The foghorn cries profanity, At the master of insanity” it drags you in. Final track, Home Run King is rapid fire, hoedown country with the pedal steel and fiddle saying it all.
Now this is far from normal fare for me but, even for an old blues rocker like me, there is enough to glean from the brilliant arrangements and playing for me to class it as…well, imagine a long car journey with the iPod on shuffle: if any of these tracks came on they would bring a smile to one’s face and steering wheel drumming would surely follow. No, I may not seek them out but they are welcome callers should they appear. However, if you like country and country rock, then you will adore this.
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- For a Spanish Guitar
- Fair and Tender Ladies
- So You Say You Lost Your Baby
- Set You Free This Time
- American Dreamer
- She Don’t Care About Time
- She Darked the Sun
- With Tomorrow
- Only Colombe
- Home Run King
Leo Koster – vocals, guitar, percussion, wurlitzer
Bart-Jan Baartmans – guitar, dobro, mandolin
Kees Maat – accordion, keyboards
Sjoerd van Bommel – drums
Byron Berline – fiddle (track 2)
Andre Sommer – steel guitar (track 3)
Harm van Sleen – upright bass (track 1)